Tag Archives: Jesus

Searching for Sugar Man, I saw the second coming of Jesus in Brighton last night – and his name was Rodriguez

Sugar Man in Brighton last night

Jesus played in Brighton last night

“That was weird,” said my eternally-un-named friend as we came out of the Brighton Dome last night. “What did you think?”

“Weird,” I agreed. “What a weird experience. Weird. Weird. Weird.”

Earlier in the day, we had been at an optician’s in Brighton.

It turned out that the optician was a South African man so – obviously – he too was going to the concert at the Dome last night.

“Have you seen the film?” I asked him.

“No, he said, “but I grew up with him. Any place you went, everyone you knew had the album.”

A few months ago, I saw the documentary movie Searching For Sugar Man.

I used to review movies. I saw movies from 10.00am in the morning until sometimes mid evening. I went to the Edinburgh Film Festival for about ten years. There, I saw movies from midday to midnight. I have seen a lot of movies.

Now a Producers' Guild Award nominee

Now a US Producers’ Guild Award nominee…

Searching For Sugar Man – a documentary – is, without any doubt, one of the ten best films of any kind I have ever seen. I cried at the end.

A few weeks later, I went back to see Searching For Sugar Man for a second time.

I cried all the way through the movie this time because I knew what was going to happen at the end.

Afterwards, like one does, I got talking to a Japanese man in the gents toilets of the Prince Charles Cinema.

“This is the second time I’ve seen the film,” I told the Japanese man. “I’m going to see him at the Brighton Dome.”

“I have seen the film four times,” said the Japanese man. “I am seeing him at the Roundhouse. I tried to book for the Festival Hall,” but it was sold out.”

I was going to blog about Searching For Sugar Man after I saw it the first time, but thought I might give away some of the twists and turns in the story. It is extraordinarily well structured but then, again, the truth is so incredible. Literally almost incredible.

Last night, when I got home, there was an e-mail from an American publication saying that Searching For Sugar Man had been nominated for a US Producers’ Guild Award.

We are in the area of legend here.

Last night, when He came on the stage at the start of the concert, being helped to walk, the audience reaction was like they had seen Lazarus raised from the grave. There was a gigantic rising roar of whoops and hollers and awe.

It was like watching Lazarus perform at the Dome last night

It was like watching Lazarus perform at the Dome last night

Every song got rapturous applause. More than applause. Adoration. When the opening chords of each song were played, there was an excited ripple of anticipation you could almost feel in at least three-quarters if not 90% of the audience.

As for me, it was like being a villager from a remote Chinese village suddenly plonked down at the Beatles’ concert at Shea Stadium. The whole audience knew the most famous songs in the world but, mostly, I had never heard them before.

“Someone in the film,” I said to the optician yesterday afternoon, “asked if he was bigger than the Rolling Stones and the answer was Yes. He must have been bigger than the Stones and the Beatles in South Africa, was he?”

The optician looked at me and never bothered to even answer. Of course he was! his eyes said. Was I mad?

At the end of the concert last night, my eternally-un-named friend said to me: “The woman behind me in the queue for the toilets was from Bournemouth but she was a South African and she was saying it’s so strange. The music was everywhere when she was a student. But, of course, they didn’t realise he wasn’t that famous everywhere. They just assumed he was as famous everywhere in the world as he was in South Africa. It was inconceivable that he was totally unknown everywhere else”

My friend Lynn went to the gig last night too, but was sitting in a different part of the Dome.

Live on stage

Live on stage

“Were you in that bit in the balcony where there were about twenty people dancing?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “They were all from Johannesburg. They had flown over just to see him tonight.”

“I could see them all waving their hands in the air,” I said.

“And shouting out Jesus! Jesus!” Lynn said.

“I’d forgotten his name actually is Jesus,” I said.

“You couldn’t believe it unless you’d seen the film,” my eternally-un-named friend said. “The story is just so unlikely. The woman in the queue was saying it was so sad that he missed out on being a rock ‘n’ roll rich person. I think she was the woman who had been sitting next to us.”

“I thought that couple were English,” I said, “but they got up on their feet at the end. I think she was whooping. I think they were in their fifties.”

“The optician,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “told us every home had a copy of the album.”

“The film,” I said, “was saying every party you went to it was playing…”

“It was strange the optician had not seen the film,” my eternally-un-named friend said.

“Maybe South Africans over here didn’t twig from the title Searching For Sugar Man that it was about Rodriguez,” I suggested.

“I love his voice,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“The audience gasped at the end of the film,” my friend Lynn said, “because no-one in this country knew anything about the story.”

“The woman in the toilet queue,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “didn’t know what had happened. She said she knew he had vanished, but didn’t know why.”

“Well,” I said, “they knew he had died but didn’t know how.”

“They had no idea exactly how he had died,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “because they were so cut-off in South Africa. They just knew he was dead.”

It has been said that, when Rodriguez’ album was released in the US in the 1970s, it sold six albums.

I can do no better than quote the blurb for the film:

In the late 1960s, a musician was discovered in a Detroit bar by two celebrated producers who were struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They recorded an album that they believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest recording artists of his generation. 

Despite overwhelming critical acclaim, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumours of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, it became a phenomenon. 

Two South African fans then set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation led them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Music

The End of the World is nigh… though we might need a wee re-calculation

On the second and final day of this year’s Fortean Times UnConvention, former BBC Religious Affairs correspondent Ted Harrison gave a talk about the end of the world.

He has previously written a novel King Clone about how to start your own religion – worshipping Elvis Presley. And he is currently writing a non-fiction book Apocalypse When about various End of The World scares throughout history.

Well, it’s mostly non-fiction.

Scares about the Apocalypse being imminent have thus far proved to be wrong and crop up with alarming regularity throughout history – sometimes when there is a cluster of natural disasters or astronomical abnormalities; sometimes when people are starting up religions and need a strong selling point to grab people’s attention.

When Joseph Smith started the Mormon church, he expected the Apocalypse to be within his lifetime.

The Seventh Day Adventists were a splinter group of the Millerites, who had expected the world to end on 22nd October 1844 and who had to re-calculate when it did not. Understandably, they called what did not happen on 22nd October 1844 “The Great Disappointment”.

More recently, Harold Camping, boss of the Family Radio network proclaimed that Jesus Christ would return to Earth, the righteous would fly up to heaven and there would be five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011 with the end of the world.

When this appeared not to have happened, on re-consideration, he re-calculated that, in fact, it had indeed happened, but “on a spiritual level” and that the physical apocalypse when God would destroy the universe was actually going to happen on 21st October 2011.

On that day, I was quite busy.

I went filming with Mr Methane, had a drink with comedian Paco Erhard and then went to the launch of Silver Road Studios in Shepherds Bush. The party in Shepherds Bush was quite noisy and I may have missed something; but I am writing this blog on 14th November 2011 and I suspect I would have noticed the end of the Universe if it had happened.

How Harold Camping has coped with the irritating non-appearance of the Four Horsemen, I do not know, but one of my fondest semi-religious memories is of attending a talk by Benjamin Creme in Holborn around 1984.

In the Spring of 1982, he had paid for ads in the London Times, the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers worldwide. The ads said:

“The Christ is now here”

They announced that Jesus Christ – or, more correctly, the Maitreya – was already walking the Earth and would telepathically reveal himself to the people of the world via television on 21st June 1982.

Alas, this failed to happen and I went to the blessed Benjamin’s talk to see how he had come to terms with this.

Jesus, by the way, was working at this time within the Indian/Bangladeshi community in the Brick Lane area of East London.

Apparently he had been going to reveal his identity in the telepathic television broadcast. Really he had.

The reason Jesus had not kept his appointment with destiny, it turned out, was because the world’s media had not taken that extra small step of trying to find him.

Call me cynical, but I had thought there might be – just perhaps – some financial scam involved in this saga.

When I attended Benjamin’s lecture, though, I realised I was wrong. He was an amiable, totally sane and clear-eyed middle-aged man with no particular financial axe to grind. From memory, the talk was free.

Benjamin came across as a kindly uncle trying to do his best although I was a little taken aback when he told us he was going to electrically charge us.

I think this was to increase our powers of understanding and/or awareness.

His eyes went into a wide-eyed staring trance, he stretched both his arms out towards us with his all his fingers sharply pointing forwards and, standing erect, his body slowly moved in an arc round the room, the invisible power source presumably pulsing into each of us.

After he had helped us thus, his eyes returned to their amiable Uncle Benjamin state and, presumably, I was in a higher state of consciousness though, alas, too stupid to realise it.

Benjamin has occasionally given other dates for what I like to think of as the Second Coming of Christ. So far, this has not happened, though I live in hope of good news.

Benjamin would, I think, disagree with me on the use of the phrase “the Second Coming of Christ”.

In April last year, he wrote in the Guardian that he has “never presented Maitreya as a messiah figure who comes to make all things bright and beautiful for a supine humanity” and (I think rather relevantly) he revealed “I am not a betting man”.

We are, by the way, not yet out of the woods on the End of the World being nigh.

The long-dead Mayan civilisation allegedly calculated the End of The World would take place on 21st December 2012.

That is good news for the London Olympics, but bad news for Christmas card manufacturers and for the organisers of Edinburgh’s 2012 Hogmanay celebrations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Eccentrics, Religion, Strange phenomena

My encounters with Jesus Christ… and the reason I could say Yes to heroin

In yesterday’s blog – drink.

Today – drugs.

Tomorrow, who knows?

If you are lucky, maybe even sex.

I was 13 when the Beatles hit big; I was 17 in the Summer of Love. Prime druggie material.

I once spent a long time in a kitchen in Clapham with a close friend of mine and the boyfriend of one of her friends who, let’s say, was called Susan. We were trying to persuade him that Susan did not really want to see him and that he should get the train back to his home town in the north of England. The problem was that he knew he was Jesus Christ and this kept getting in the way of the discussion. He kept telling us how he could change anything by deciding it was changed. We eventually persuaded him to go with us to St Pancras station and we did put him on a train north, but he was of the opinion he did not really need to travel on trains as he was the Messiah.

The second time I encountered Jesus Christ was a couple of weeks after a plane had crashed on a crowded rural area in (I think it was) Holland. The person who had done this was prepared to make a plane similarly crash onto the Thames TV building in Euston Road, London. He told me (the person who said he made the plane crash) that he would do this unless Thames TV issued an on-air apology because one of their programmes had offended him and I should pay attention to what he said because his father just happened to be God and he himself, as you will have guessed, was Jesus Christ.

I have never taken any non-medical, so-called ‘recreational’ drugs though, at one time, I would have done.

The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

Marijuana in any of its forms never attracted me. It just seemed to be an alternative to drink, though less self-destructive than alcohol and spirits.

I lost count of the number of times I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s while other people smoked joints and talked utter drivel.

The next day, they would go on and on about what a great, deep and meaningful philosophical discussion they had had the night before and I would think:

“Nope. I was there. You were talking utter drivel, like five year-olds after eight pints of beer.”

Hellfire – forget “I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s” – I have sat in rooms throughout my life listening to stoned people talking drivel.

Amiable drivel. But drivel nonetheless.

It is rubbish to say weed has no effect on anyone in the long term. Not if you take it regularly in significant quantities over a long period.

Neil in The Young Ones TV series was not a fantasy character.

That was social realism.

I have worked with real Neils.

I remember a very amiable and well-meaning but totally brain-groggy and decision-incapable head of department at a regional ITV company in the 1990s. His entire brain had been turned into semolina by twenty years or more of weed and pseudo-philosophical befuddlement. If he had been an alcoholic, he would have been dribbling saliva out the sides of his mouth; as it was, his few remaining brain cells were almost visibly dribbling out of his ears.

I might well have tried hash in the 1960s or 1970s but it just seemed to be a milder version of alcohol with less aggressive effects and there was also a seemingly tiny but actually rather large practical problem: I had never smoked nicotine cigarettes, so the whole technique of smoking and inhaling was alien to me. If anyone had offered me hash cakes, I would have eaten them; but no-one ever did.

To me, marijuana in whatever form was and is a mild and uninteresting drug. If you want to be relaxed, then I recommend you just eat a marshmallow, don’t stuff one inside your brain cavity.

A friend of mine told me in the 1970s: “You just don’t understand what weed is like because you have never taken it.”

But, in the 1980s, I vividly remember standing in Soho with a long-term alcoholic I knew as he looked lovingly into the crowded window display of Gerry’s booze shop in Old Compton Street.

You could see the tenderness and nostalgic thoughts in his eyes as they moved from bottle to bottle and from label to label.

I was not an alcoholic, but I could see objectively what the drink had done and was doing to him.

In a sense, to see the real effect of a drug, you have to not take it.

I was always very strongly attracted to LSD.

It held the very major attraction to me of mind-alteration and making surrealism real. But the attraction and alarm bells over-lapped and, in any case, LSD was not available in my circles in my middle class area in Ilford, East London/Essex in the late 1960s.

Yes, I went to events at the Arts Lab in Drury Lane; yes I read International Times and went to Blackhill Enterprises’ free rock concerts in Hyde Park before the sheer scale of the Rolling Stones’ appearance in 1969 ruined them. But life in Ilford at that point was not druggy.

By the time LSD was available to me, I had read enough about people freaking out on it, read of Syd Barrett self-destructing in Pink Floyd, seen other people’s minds gone wrong. And then there were the Manson Murders in 1969. Not acid-induced as such, but not totally unrelated to druggy people’s minds going haywire.

The logic of LSD, as I saw it, was that you could alter the chemical balance inside your mind and, as it were, temporarily re-arrange the inter-connections. But if you felt, as I rightly or wrongly did, that perhaps your mind was potentially ‘near the edge’ to begin with, then there was the obvious danger that LSD would tip you permanently over the edge.

So I would have taken acid during a short window of opportunity but it was not available to me until after that window of acceptance had closed. I never took it. And reading about Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s mind being sent spinning over the edge by one drink spiked with acid did not change my opinion. He spiralled out of control after that first acid trip of course but, the way Rolling Stone told it, the whole spiral began with that one tab of acid.

With heroin: the same thing. When I would have taken it, the stuff was not available to me. When it was available I no longer wanted to take it.

When I was in my late teens, a close friend of mine married someone who was ‘an ex–heroin addict’. But, even then I knew that being an ex-heroin addict is a bit like being an ex-member of the SAS. You can never be too sure.

Years later, when the first anti-heroin ads appeared on TV, a close friend of mine said to me, “They make smack look bloody attractive, don’t they?” and I had to agree with her. If I had been an impressionable young teenager and it had been available, I would almost certainly have taken heroin. The first anti-heroin TV commercials were almost, but not quite, as good a commercial for smack as Trainspotting which felt to me like a positive Jerusalem of an anthemic hymn to the attractions of smack.

That first injection of heroin may, as I have been told, give you the biggest high – the most gigantic orgasmic leap – you have ever had. But it is also a drug for nihilists.

So that’s the one for me.

I think, with heroin, the potential lows can be as attractive as the highs – something the anti-heroin ads never seem to have realised.

Whereas cocaine seems to me to be the drug of self-doubting egotists who want to prove to themselves that they are as special as they hope they might be.

But that is another blog.

7 Comments

Filed under Drugs, Music

Other creatures’ lives: Charlie Chuck and Elsie the duck who sits on his head

Yesterday, I drove up to Leicestershire to take photographs of comedian Charlie Chuck with his ducks. Well, they are not his ducks. They are his girlfriend’s ducks.

It is not a quiet nor a simple life having 21 ducks, two dogs, an occasional fox and Charlie Chuck in your back garden. Because they have to be mostly kept apart for safety reasons.

There are four females ducks, four very large males and 13 newly-born ducklings.

The four males have to be kept separate to stop them leaping on the four females, grabbing them violently by the back of their necks and making what Shakespeare almost called the duck with two backs.

The four females and 12 ducklings can be left to roam but need careful shepherding in case they make a bolt for the wrought-iron side gate and, from there, the front garden and road.

And then there is Elsie.

Elsie was a sickly duckling, excluded from the family nest which was in a large wooden dog house. She was tended by Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s grown-up son and has bonded with him and humans not ducks. She does not like water except to drink. She refuses to swim. And, if she goes outside when the other ducklings are around, they attack her. But she will settle on human shoulders – especially Charlie Chuck’s – like a miniature would-be pirate’s parrot.

And on his head.

If no human is available, she will follow the nearest mother substitute available – usually Billy the Jack Russell dog belonging to Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend. Of a night-time, Elsie would ideally like to sleep with Billy the Jack Russell dog, but Billy does not want this, so he tries to avoid the arrangement by running away, resulting in a regular circular chase round a tree in the back garden, with Billy pursued by Elsie in the twilight.

And then there is Charlie Chuck’s dog Ollie the collie who never barks at home but who does when he visits Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s home and hears Billy the Jack Russell dog bark.

And then there is the occasional fox, kept at bay at night by Charlie Chuck’s girlfriend’s grown-up son with a catapult in an upstairs window.

And then there is Charlie Chuck.

At home, the books on Charlie Chuck’s bookshelf include all the children’s stories written by C.S.Lewis, the autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake by Malcolm Hardee (he drowned) and The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates by theologian Hugh Montefiore who was born a Sephardic Jew but who became the Church of England’s Bishop of Birmingham 1977-1987. He (Montefiore) converted to Christianity as a 16-year-old schoolboy when he had a vision of Christ while sitting in his study at Rugby school.

Jesus was a Jew who never converted to Christianity.

It can be a complicated world.

There are pictures of Charlie Chuck with Elsie the duck on my Facebook page here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Religion

Star guitarist Hank Marvin used to knock-up mothers on Sunday mornings

I was talking to someone in West Wales today about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, like you do, and the subject of Hank Marvin of The Shadows cropped up.

I don’t know if this is an urban myth, but I have heard it more than once over the years and it has always had the ring of truth about it.

Cliff Richard and The Shadows are famously Christian.

Lead guitarist Hank Marvin became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1973.

Whenever Cliff Richard and The Shadows toured the UK after that – wherever they performed on a particular Saturday night – every Sunday morning Hank Marvin would go round knocking on people’s doors, carrying copies of The Watchtower and spreading the Word of God.

Quite how mothers of a certain age reacted when they opened the door, bleary-eyed, on a Sunday morning to find their teenage pop idol Hank Marvin asking, “Have you ever thought of giving your life to Jesus?” I cannot imagine.

Well, I CAN imagine it and it gives me warm smiles of happiness whenever I do.

Even more surreal is the story that Frank Zappa apparently said Hank Marvin’s guitar style heavily influenced the first Mothers of Invention album Freak Out! and that guitarist Carlos Santana’s early nickname was ‘Apache’ after The Shadows’ famous tune of that name.

1 Comment

Filed under Music, Religion

The god-like comedian Ken Dodd is more mugger than con man + he got a standing ovation in Bournemouth

Morecambe and Wise were not famous.

Yes, they were justifiably famous in the UK. But go to some village in western China and ask them who Morecambe and Wise were.

M&W are and always were total unknowns except in the British Isles.

Fame is relative and mostly regional.

To save my life, I could not tell you who the world water ski champion is. But presumably he or she is a Big Name if you follow water skiing.

The world is full of champions, each famous in their own little world.

I see quite a lot of club comedy and what is still called alternative comedy. Some of the acts are called comedy stars; some may even think they are stars. Audiences even flock to and fill large venues to see some of these people who have appeared in TV panel shows.

But they are not big stars even in the UK. They are minor and transient cults with a few disciples. Admittedly they have more disciples than Jesus did when he started but, just because you can get more than twelve people to listen to you in a room above a pub in Camden Town, don’t start thinking you are more famous than the Son of God.

Unless you are known and regarded in awe by a random 50-year-old housewife in a bus queue in Leamington Spa, you are not famous in UK terms. If you can fill a big venue at the Edinburgh Fringe with 23 year old fans for 27 nights, you are not famous. You are a very minor cult.

Last night, I saw Ken Dodd’s show Happiness at The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. Ken Dodd is unquestionably famous in the UK and the venue was filled with a well-heeled middle-of-the-road, middle class Middle England audience of the type TV commissioners mystifyingly ignore. This audience was the great TV-viewing audience en masse on a rare trip out to see a live show.

Upcoming shows at The Pavilion include The Gazza and Greavsie Show, Roy Chubby Brown, Joe Pasquale, Jethro and Jim Davidson. Never, never, never underestimate the Daily Mail. Their readers are the mass audience. Admittedly Dylan Moran and Russell Kane also have upcoming shows at The Pavilion, but the phrases “sore thumbs” and “stand out” spring to mind.

London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer has a routine in which he says his ex-manager told him he will never become famous unless, like a currently ‘famous’ alternative comedian, he can be a true professional and tell the same jokes in every show and repeat each show exactly.

Last night, the first half of Ken Dodd’s 5-hour show proved the danger of being too experienced and too professional a performer if you are on a long tour.

There was an audibility problem.

This was partly because the sound system at The Pavilion was occasionally indistinct – certainly where I was sitting, centre right in the audience – and partly because Ken Dodd, after 55 years in showbiz and on his seemingly endless UK tour, has been doing the same routines and telling the same stories for too long. He came on stage and spoke what, for the first part of the show seemed to be a script which he had got so used to he didn’t actually perform it: he just threw the words out. He galloped and gabbled through the words and syllables with the result perhaps a quarter of what he was saying was indecipherable.

And this was an audience with possible inbuilt hearing problems where I half expected the colostomy bags to break during the show to create a tsunami that could have washed the entire population of Bournemouth into the English Channel.

When an established act, instead of saying “Ladies and gentlemen” says “lay-ge-me” and all the other words and phrases are gabbled and elided indistinctly in much the same way, he is not performing an act, he is going through the motions on autopilot. He has heard the jokes 1,000 times; the audience has not (well, not most of them).

His saving grace was an astonishing gag rate of perhaps one potential laugh every ten seconds. And the material is gold. You couldn’t go wrong with that material. But Doddy was getting laughs because the jokes (when heard) were good, not because of any technical skill in the delivery.

There are very few successful gag tellers in modern alternative comedy – Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine are exceptions not the rule. Most successful alternative comedians nowadays tell stories: not necessarily funny stories, but stories told funny.

Ken Dodd mostly told gags in the first half and funny stories in the second half (in which he found his feet more). But it struck me that his slightly more old-fashioned (or let’s say traditional) approach was very similar to inexperienced circuit comics today.

He told stories as if they were gags, with token links between each story, but with no over-all arc. If he told ten stories, the first and second might have a token link and the seventh and eighth might have a token link, but there was no over-all progression, no shape, no thread to the stories. So the over-all effect was like getting beaten round the head with gags by a mugger for five hours, not drawn into a personal fantasy world by a con man, which is what a stand-up comedian is.

It struck me Doddy’s unlinked gag structure was very like comics new to the current comedy circuit who have some material but can’t stitch it into a unitary act. They can do 10 or 15 or 20 minutes but are not yet capable of putting on a 60 minute Edinburgh Fringe show.

I suppose the transition from beating people into submission with barrages of gags rather than bringing them into your own personal world with smoothly-linked stories is a relatively recent development which Doddy has no need to embrace because he has so many gags and stories which he can throw at the audience from his years of experience.

Because he is so experienced and so good, I could not tell how much of the second half was scripted and how much he was just plucking and throwing in gags and stories from a mental storehouse.

One ad-lib which surely must have been planned and, indeed, ‘planted’ was a piece of banter with the audience in which Dodd asked a woman “How many children do you have?”

“Eight!” came the unexpected reply.

Dodd professed bewilderment at this and meandered for a couple of sentences about her husband, then asked:

“Have you sewn up the gap in his pyjamas yet?…. (pause)… You know what they say… A stitch in time saves…” (Immediate audience laughter – though strangely not as much as it deserved)

This cannot possibly have been an ad-lib. It had to have been planted in the audience because he feigned bewilderment at the initial reply of “Eight,” which he would not have done in the way that he did if it were not a lead-up to the punchline.

There were also glimpses of an unexpected (to me) Ken Dodd – a ventriloquist act with a Diddy Man doll that almost verged on being post-modernist and a sequence in which he was doing a series of very passable regional accents and which went into a whole non-Ken-Dodd realm.

Small numbers of the audience left during the single interval – including the friend I went with, who had been exhausted by the first two and a half hours – she went paddling in the sea by the pier and then found a strange Greek Orthodox priest intoning his way through a Paschal Celebration in a small chapel watching by an old woman with a bell and an old man in a shabby grey suit. He had started at 10.00pm – about halfway through Doddy’s show – and was still intoning, watched by his two fans, at 15 minutes past midnight after Doddy’s show had ended and we went to see if he was still going strong.

Whether Christianity or Ken Dodd’s shows will last longer is a moot point, but they probably have the same fans.

At the end of Ken Dodd’s Happiness show, people rose from their seats to leave while still clapping and, partially blocked from leaving by other people possibly with mobility problems, this turned into a standing ovation and a sudden flutter of flashes as people with mobile phones snatched quick photos of the god-like Doddy on stage.

The standing ovation in both the stalls and the balcony was warm and heartfelt and passionate but perhaps was more for being a national institution than for the show itself.

It was an event as much as a show.

Much like Jesus preaching to the converted, in retrospect, it will be loved, treasured and much talked about and the Master’s fame will spread, though perhaps neither further nor wider nor to western China.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Religion, Theatre

A funny thing happened to IKEA’s image at yesterday’s shambolic public relations disaster

If you don’t like long moans about incompetent ad agencies, PR people and IKEA, progress no further, gentle reader.

The words “piss-up”, “brewery”, “a”, “organise”, “couldn’t” and “in” spring to mind.

I am not going to name the top-notch comedy warm-up man and four excellent featured stand-ups who were employed to make IKEA’s next TV commercial yesterday, because it would be counter-productive to link their names to this shambolic PR disaster for the normally stylish and efficient Swedish company.

I got invited to be in the audience because a friend and I both have IKEA “Family Cards” despite having no family (look – it gives discounts and I am a Scot brought up among Jews).

The promise was a “live stand-up comedy TV production… The fun starts at 1.30pm… There’ll be plenty of refreshments and breaks provided, plus entertainment while you’re waiting for the filming of our TV ad to start.” It would last from 1.30pm to 6.00pm.

Bear in mind, dear reader, the phrase “plenty of refreshments and breaks provided”. We will return to this. It is up there high in the ranks of hype along with that jolly interview in which Colonel Gaddafi said that all his people loved him, anyone who didn’t love him was on hallucinogenic drugs jointly provided by the Americans & Osama bin Laden and no-one had demonstrated against him anywhere in Libya.

The IKEA fiasco started badly. There was supposed to be an audience of 250 or 300 (the publicity seemed uncertain which).

Instead, at 1.30pm, waiting in the icy cold outside the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, was a queue of under 30. There was no-one from the production team to be spotted anywhere. Eventually, someone left the freezing queue outside the Riverside Studios and, with trouble, found a couple of people inside the building. They told her they had no idea when it would start but the crew were “about to go to” lunch.

At 1.45pm, freezing, after someone else had asked, the audience was taken inside the building to stand for another 20 minutes in a line by the open-plan restaurant, watching the cast and crew eating their hot lunch. About 15 minutes into this 20-minute wait, an Australian came along asking everyone to sign ‘release forms’ (no explanation of what they were – yes, I do know).

Then, at 2.05pm, it was into the studio to… yes… wait another 25 minutes while the crew finished their lunch and drinks and, by 2.45, things had been got-together enough to start… ish.

We should have known there would be a problem when the warm-up music for this family-centred comedy ad included the punk anthem “No Future” and the Australian with no microphone inaudibly explained what was going to happen to the bemused audience while loud music continued to play, drowning his words out.

At this point, I just sat back and wrote everything down, secure in the comfort that the ad agency ‘organising’ this destruction of IKEA’s public image to its loyal Family Card members was so incompetent and so unused to staging live shows to a live audience that comedy gold could only follow – entertaining for me, though annoying for the until-then IKEA-loving but now freezing and starving audience. Yup, only around 30 of them, but word of mouth is a powerful thing.

Sure enough, having employed four good comics whose daily professional job is to create situations in which audiences laugh uproariously, the show started with the four hapless comics standing in the background on the IKEA comedy set like enforced lemons while the French floor manager stood in front of them and told the audience to “laugh” unmotivated while cameras shot reactions. Sitting there, cold – both in showbiz terms and in temperature – the audience was instructed to give belly-laughs, laugh louder etc etc. Someone sitting near me said: “Maybe they think we all went to drama school.”

The ad agency had employed an experienced and excellent warm-up man (a comedian whose London circuit work and hour-long Edinburgh Fringe shows I have seen – he’s top notch). He was not, of course, used in this surreal show-starting scenario of asking the audience to laugh at nothing. The French floor manager just stood there and told people to laugh.

Lack of direction was what characterised the entire afternoon.

During the long hours ahead the warm-up man succeeded in the near-impossible task of keeping the audience responsive and the four on-set comedians did sterling work in getting audience laughs from a misconceived sexist cliché of an idea with some occasionally godawful lines.

The ramshackle concept was to mix straight-to-audience stand-up with the TV series Friends in an IKEA-built set under a large neon sign saying MAKE STORAGE NOT WAR. The misconceived and yawningly old-fashioned premise was to look at Which sex is messier at home – the guys or the girls? The gags, I think, were partly supplied by the four comedians but also, with fatal consequences, obviously also partly written by some faceless ad agency copywriter who thought he knew what jokes are. Well, OK, maybe not faceless. I’m guessing it was the young guy skulking around in the Ayatollah-like beard.

The comics tried their best with some occasionally deadly lines. The famous laughing automaton on Blackpool Pleasure Beach would have had difficulty laughing but the audience were pros. Or, at least, they did their best to pretend they had been to drama school.

The ad agency seem to have assumed they could get steady laughs over four hours from an audience for the same series of jokes repeated perhaps (I’m guessing) seven times over that four hours. The audience tried their best but it’s hard, at best, to laugh convincingly at a joke when its repeated twice or three times. The ad agency should have put together an audience from members of the Alzheimer’s Society.

Though the one thing even an Alzheimer’s audience would not have forgotten was the key phrase in the e-mails they got: “plenty of refreshments and breaks provided”.

See? I told you to remember this.

It is a key phrase because some of the audience members I talked to had left home at 11.30am to get to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith at 1.30pm, then wait until 2.45pm (with no refreshments) until the show started.

During the recording, which ended at 6.00pm, there was one break in which the audience discovered the phrase “plenty of refreshments” involved around ten apples and ten pears plus Twinings Tea, Nescafe Coffee and an unknown brand of milk. What would have happened if the expected 250-300 punters had turned up I don’t know. Perhaps the ad agency used its fee from IKEA to have Jesus on standby with loaves and fishes.

My reason for mentioning Twinings and Nescafe by name is that these are not products on sale in IKEA, so they were presumably bought by the advertising agency. The irony is that IKEA sells and provides very cheap good food and drink and would presumably have given free food and drink to the ad agency to give to their IKEA “Family Card” members.

To be honest, there wasn’t just one break, there were two. On the second one, the break in which the audience was told to go eat, drink and wee in the toilets was interrupted after three minutes (I timed it) and the audience urgently called back to their seats (abandoning half-drunk cups and apples with one bite taken out of them) “to line up cameras”. They were then not needed for 17 minutes during which time, for a brief period, all four comics were visibly eating and drinking on set in front of the seated, unfed and unwatered audience. (Not the comics’ fault; they didn’t know the audience wasn’t being given food, but the production crew should have seen and twigged what was happening.)

The whole somnambulistic shambles came to an end just before 6.00pm with increasing audience grumbling around me about not being given any of the promised food. One person said to me, “At least a ham sandwich would have been something. They are all getting paid and had food. We get paid nothing, we have to perform and we get starved for four hours.”

Despite an out-of-control production, the comics and the warm up man succeeded in the amazing, near impossible task of keeping the audience on-side and responsive for four hours. With good editing, there was more than enough material shot yesterday to create maybe five good 20-second commercials. I will be interested to see the uproarious final comic ads with the roaring audience reactions (‘sweetened’ in the sound edit suite) and happy audience faces.

The agency behind yesterday’s farrago was Mother Advertising.

They were certainly being thought of as a bunch of mothers by the IKEA Family Card-carrying audience members I was sitting among.

Except, of course, that’s not true. I thought that myself.

Ordinary punters did not think the shambles was mis-organised by an ad agency and presumably had not, as I had, checked on the release form they signed at the beginning of the afternoon to see who the ‘producers’ were. They saw it as an afternoon organised by IKEA.

So, yesterday afternoon, IKEA’s reputation was tarnished to around 30 of its most loyal customers and, as I say, word of mouth is a powerful thing.

___________________

There are later blogs by me on this subject, including this one about the audience. You might also want to follow me on Twitter  – @thejohnfleming – or Facebook.

___________________

9 Comments

Filed under Ad industry, PR, Television