Tag Archives: ICA

Topless female Iggy Pop + comedian Malcolm Hardee goes body surfing

So I was standing against a wall in London’s ICA arts venue last night when this man approached me and started talking. He told me he was a poet/musician/singer and that he used to perform under the stage name ‘Me’.

But – and I am telling you the truth here – he told me he had to give up using the name because getting bookings was so complicated. He would phone up and say he wanted a gig and be asked: “What’s your name?”

“It’s me,” he would say and, as you can imagine, the conversation continued with more and more complications, misunderstandings and slight friction from the venue manager who thought he was taking the piss.

His real name is Roger Atkins. He thought I looked like Graham Chapman – “the dead one from Monty Python” and performed one of his own poems Who Goes To Soho? to me as we stood against the wall. There is a version on YouTube.

In fact, last night I was at the ICA to see Iggyfest: Blah Blah Blah – a live performance of Iggy Pop’s entire 1986 album performed by The Passengers fronted not by Iggy but by ‘The Countess’ Alex Zapak.


Was this nudity strictly necessary last night? Blah Blah Blah

I am not the greatest of Iggy Pop aficionados so, when Alex took her top off, I said to comedian Martin Soan, who was with me: “That’s a bit unnecessary.”

“It’s what Iggy Pop used to do,” Martin reminded me. “Take his top off.”

Martin also, inevitably, had another anecdote about our chum, the late, great comedian Malcolm Hardee.

“Did I ever tell you about Malcolm and his relationship with the sea?” he started.

“You mean he drowned?” I said. “I knew that.”

“Not in the sea,” said Martin. “But every time we were on our Greatest Show on Legs tours, right from the very early days when we were doing Punch & Judy, a lot of it was by the sea. Malcolm used to get his trunks on and go out into the sea with me.”

“It’s the reverse of what you would expect,” I said. “Malcolm putting clothing on.”

“He used to get in up to his chest,” said Martin, “and then do this thing with his hands to make a squeaking noise and then ask me: Do you know how to body surf, Mart? He said it every single time we were in the sea together.

“I then used to say to him: No, Malcolm, how do you body surf?

“And he’d say: Well, what you do is you get into the water up to your chest like this and you wait for a wave to come along. You’ll feel your feet touch the bottom and, just as the wave’s gonna break, you push up with your feet.

“And I’d say: Alright, Malcolm.

“He did this every single time we got in the water. The squeaking noise with his hands and then Do you know how to body surf?

“So, we are in Bali, on a stopover on the way back from appearing in Australia and, by following a pig, I found this…”

“By following a pig?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Martin. “By following a pig. Most of the beaches in Bali are black, so…”

“Did you often follow pigs at that time?” I asked.

Martin Soan at the ICA last night

Martin Soan remembered at the ICA last night

“I followed this pig through the undergrowth,” Martin continued, “and I came across this white sand beach which was idyllic with a Bacardi/Coke advertisement type beach hut with a bar.

“So I go back to Malcolm and tell him: You gotta come to this place because it’s brilliant! – The reason being that the whole beach was full of very fit topless German girls in white thongs.

“Malcolm said: Do we have to walk? He wanted a taxi.

“I said: We’re going to have to walk through a bit of a jungle. It wasn’t far; it wasn’t dangerous; but it was a bit of a walk.”

“And you had found this by following the pig?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Martin. “So, we eventually see from up above this white sand beach with all these beautiful German girls in white thongs. Topless. We get to the beach. Off come Malcolm’s trousers and he gets his swimming trunks on, which were one grade up from knitted swimming trunks and he had a piece of string holding his glasses on.

“We wade out and look back to the beach and this idyllic thatched bar with all the topless girls drinking.

“Malcolm does the thing with his hands – squeak squeak squeak squeak – and asks Do you know how to body surf, Mart?

“No, Malcolm, how do you body surf?

“Well, what you do is you get into the water up to your chest like this and you wait for a wave to come along.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm at Glastonbury in 2003

“We did that and this massive wave came along and threw us towards the beach up and down and over and round and round. I didn’t know where the fuck I was and the wave landed me and Malcolm on the beach, exhausted, out-of-breath.

“We were starting to raise ourselves up from the sand when we got the backward draft as the water went back into the sea and it literally sucked me and Malcolm into this white sand and ripped our trunks off.

“We got up and Malcolm went straight over to the bar and we sat there bullock naked and both ordered one of those coconut and parasol drinks.”

“Were the topless ladies impressed?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “And the other thing… when people didn’t know Malcolm… his body with his swimming trunks off, of course, was covered in blotches and pimples and spots – and people just didn’t want to sit near him. Especially if you were German and had a lovely tan.”

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In praise of the Daily Telegraph and Pear Shaped Comedy Club’s quirkiness

To start at the end of this blog and to reply to your reaction…


It’s my blog. I am allowed to witter.

So, for fans of Tristram Shandy

Brian Damage and Krysstal’s weekly Pear Shaped comedy club has been running in London’s West End for eleven years. Brian and Krysstal promote it as “the second worst comedy club in London”. I prefer to call Pear Shaped the Daily Telegraph of British open spot comedy clubs.

Let me explain.

When I blogged about last weekend’s six-hour event celebrating the anarchic life of Ian Hinchliffe, I did not mention that I told ex-ICA Director of Live Arts Lois Keidan about my admiration for Bernard Manning as a comic, Margaret Thatcher as a Parliamentary debater and the Daily Telegraph as a newspaper. I do not think she was impressed with this triple whammy.

But – in addition to my love of quirky Daily Telegraph obituaries in their golden era under Hugh Massingberd and their sadly now-dropped legendary Page Three oddities – I think the Daily Telegraph is the only actual national NEWSpaper left. All the others are, in effect, magazines with ‘think’ pieces and additional background to yesterday’s TV news.

But the Daily Telegraph prints a high quantity of short news reports and (outside of election times) maintains an old-fashioned Fleet Street demarcation between News and Comment. The news reporting is, mostly, unbiased straight reportage; the comment is what non-Telegraph readers might expect.

They have also consistently displayed an admiration for rebels.

The Daily Telegraph – perhaps moreso the Sunday Telegraph – always showed an interest in and admiration for comedian Malcolm Hardee. They loved quirky MP Alan Clark, though they disapproved of his sexual amorality. The Daily Telegraph even surprisingly championed early Eminem. When the red-top tabloids were claiming his music and his act were the end of Western Civilization, the Daily Telegraph reviewed his first UK tour as being in the great tradition of British pantomime.

I once met a Daily Telegraph sub-editor at a party who hated working at the paper for exactly the same reason I loved reading it. People would yell across the room at him: “Give me a three-inch story!” not caring what the actual story was.

So the Daily Telegraph ended up with an amazing quantity of news stories, often not fully explained because they had been cut short.

I remember reading on a classic Page Three of the old Daily Telegraph, a brief court report about a man accused of scaring lady horse-riders by leaping out of hedges in country lanes dressed in a full frogman’s outfit, including flippers, goggles and breathing tube. That was, pretty much, the whole news item. If ever a story needed more background printed, this was it.

The Pear Shaped Comedy club is a bit like the Daily Telegraph in that it is an extraordinary hodge-podge of fascinating items apparently thrown together randomly but somehow holding together as a recognisable whole with its own personality. Quirky, eccentric and barely under control. Last night, in addition to the consistently good and massively under-praised Brian Damage & Krysstal themselves, the show included increasingly-highly-thought-of Stephen Carlin, rising new comics Laurence Tuck and Phillip Wragg and very new but intriguing Samantha Hannah.

And then there was long-time comic, club owner, compere, comedy craftsman and humour guru Ivor Dembina. He had come down to try out some new material as he is performing in four shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, including the fascinatingly unformatted Ivor’s Other Show. He told me:

“I might just invite on people I’ve met in the street. Anything that takes my fancy.” Then he added, “Do you want to come on it one afternoon, John? Can you do anything?”

“No,” Pear Shaped co-owner Vicky de Lacey correctly interrupted, “he can write but he can’t actually do anything.”

But that never stopped Little and Large, so I may yet appear on Ivor’s Other Show, perhaps as a human statue. There is, inevitably, a ‘living statue’ resource page on the internet.

We live in wonderful times.

I refer you to the start of this blog.

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Ian Hinchliffe: “You’ll never work here again” – Never any point asking WHY!

It is not often that a celebration of someone’s life includes a tribute by a belly dancer, four people smashing wine glasses with small hammers and two people with blood capsules in their mouths eating beer glasses with the result that apparent glass and blood spews down onto the stage, but Ian Hinchliffe was the sort of performance artist/comic/artist/musician/absurdist in whose memory this seemed an almost understated tribute.

Ian drowned while fishing on a lake in Arkansas on 3rd December last year.

An obituary written by his friends said he “was a performer who could bring a sense of menace, unpredictability and a surreal/absurd humour into any creative arena, unrivalled by any other artist of his time.”

He was indisputably – and perhaps again this understates the reality – mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Roger Ely was a friend and occasional co-performer. He organised yesterday’s six-hour event Ian Hinchliffe: The Memorial at Beaconsfield arts studio in London. As part of his tribute, Roger said Ian was “one of the most loveable people and one of the most difficult people” he had ever met. “He could be an evil sod,” he added, but one who created occasional “pieces of genius”.

Writer and performer Jim Sweeney was too Ill to be there yesterday, but sent a tribute saying: “He was the best of drunks and he was the worst of drunks.”

Dave Stephens is now a sculptor but was originally a performance artist often credited as an early forerunner of alternative comedy. He said that, in the early days performing with Ian, the routine was to “go down the pub, get pissed and see what happens”.

There were colourful reminiscences aplenty, including a tale of furniture being thrown out of a pub window and, when people went in to discover why, they found Ian with porridge coming out of his trousers because he was simulating an abortion.

I only met Ian a handful of times but, when I got chatting to Lois Keidan who was Director of Live Arts at the ICA in the 1990s, she told me he had once set fire to his own foot there. Why he did that she had no idea. But Why was perhaps always an unnecessary and unanswerable question in Ian Hinchliffe’s life.

Lois also told me a story about police going into the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and saying to the staff: “There’s a man outside doing strange things in the roadworks.”

“Oh,” the police were told, “that’s just Ian Hinchliffe. It’s art.”

The police, to do them justice, apparently accepted this answer though exactly what “strange things” he was doing remain lost in the mists of anecdote.

At Beaconsfield yesterday, Simon Miles and Pete Mielniczek did a tribute performance in which a small plastic skull, perhaps not irrelevantly, quoted those famous lines from the Scottish play…

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

The indomitable Tony Green told a true story about Ian Hinchliffe performing at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and, not for the first time, Ian was naked. He got hold of a chair and cut about three inches off one of its legs so it was unstable. He then got a broom handle and broke it in half. He managed to stuff about six inches of it up his arsehole, leaving half a broom handle protruding. He then balanced a full pint of beer on the chair, put both hands on the sides of the chair, leant forward so that his genitalia were in the pint of beer and lifted his feet off the ground so he was balancing.

“You’ll never work here again,” he was told afterwards.

I presume the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith was not the first venue to have told him that.

There is a YouTube video of Ian Hinchliffe performing in 1990 here.

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