Tag Archives: Leonard Cohen

Arthur Smith: the singing comedian is obsessed with an amateur boxer-poet

Arthur Smith is singing as the dead Leonard Cohen – again

Comic Arthur Smith, an Edinburgh Fringe regular spanning two centuries, is only going up for three days this year, to perform his legendary Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen show – re-titled Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen – The Final Tribute.

“Why did you originally decide to sing Leonard Cohen anyway?” I asked him.

“Because,” he explained, “my play An Evening With Gary Lineker was running in the West End so it didn’t really matter what the fuck I did. So I did a show called Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams. You know what it’s like. You have to pick a title in March for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I had no intention of singing Andy Williams songs. It was a title I picked because it just seemed stupid.

“I am old school, I don’t actually write my shows until… Well, it got to about a month before Edinburgh and I thought: What the fuck am I actually going to do in this show?… Well, I’ve got Tony Hawks on the piano, so I might as well actually try to do a couple of Andy Williams songs. But then I got very interested in this bloke… I think of him as a bit like Malcolm Hardee in a way. He was a footnote in history. A character called Arthur Cravan. He was the nephew of Oscar Wilde, though he never met him.”

Arthur Cravan. “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about… not being talked about,” said his uncle.

“Was he Irish?” I asked.

“It’s hard to tell,” Arthur shrugged. “He was brought up in Switzerland. Then he lived in Berlin, then he moved to Paris, where he started selling his art magazine Maintenant! and became notorious for slagging everyone off. Then he was a boxer and won the French Amateur Boxing Championship and used to parade around the ring – long before Muhammed Ali – saying: This guy’s a wanker!

“He was also a thief. There were so many stories about him. Then the First World War started and he fled to America. He met Trotsky on the boat over to America. Once over there, he was invited to give a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art or somewhere about this new weird thing Dadaism. But he came on and he was drunk and he took his trousers down and had a piss on the table and got arrested. This was deemed by the Dadaists to have been a great success. He really was like an early Malcolm Hardee. He then supposedly went hitch-hiking round Canada dressed as a woman.”

“I presume,” I said, “he did this for no reason at all?”

“Never stood a fucking chance”

“Well, I think he was escaping. He was usually escaping from something. He then married a woman, a poet called Mina Loy and went to Mexico. Mina Loy, who was pregnant by then, was going to join him, but then he disappeared. It was thought that he got on a boat and it sank, but it was never really known – which, of course, is a great way to go – people not really knowing if you have gone. He was spotted here-and-there ever after. Oh! – And in 1916 in Barcelona he fought the then just finished World Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, the first black champion who had been pretty-much exiled from America for going out with white women. There’s little bit of film of him boxing on the internet.”

“How did he fare?” I asked.

“He never stood a fucking chance against Jack Johnson. But they were both just trying to make some money. He famously had huge bollocks.”

“Like Malcolm,” I said.

“There were just loads of stories about him,” Arthur continued. “Like Malcolm. He really is this sort of mythical footnote in history.”

“And they both died by drowning,” I said.

“Yeah. Possibly. He was only in his 30s when he died. If he died. He was a ludicrous figure. I did a thing about him on BBC Radio 3 a while back.”

“What has this to do with Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams?” I asked.

“Ludicrous… We only charged something like 20p to get in”

“Ah yes!” laughed Arthur. “I got obsessed with Arthur Cravan and I went to an exhibition about him in Paris, at which point I decided to make the Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams show about Arthur Cravan, punctuated by Andy Williams songs. I had this whole thing about Was Andy Williams really Arthur Cravan? It was the most ludicrous show. We only charged something like 20p to get in. You were offered your money back on the way out. We had a gala performance that cost something like £50 – for TV executives on expenses. I started the show talking about Arthur Cravan. People wondered what was going on. Then I suddenly started singing Moon River. I had Andy Smart as a plant in the audience and we had a fight during the show.”

“Did you impersonate Andy Williams’ voice?” I asked.

“As far as I can,” said Arthur. “And I had a bear that came on. Do you remember Andy Williams used to have a bear come on in his TV shows?”

“It seems to have slipped my mind,” I said.

“I conceived…” said Arthur, “I was going to do three Arthur Smith Sings… shows. I picked Leonard Cohen as a follow-up to Andy Williams because it just sounded so boring: Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen.

“So what has happened to the third Arthur Smith Sings… show?”

“I have a few in mind. Maybe Arthur Smith Sings The Supremes or Arthur Smith Sings Serge Gainsbourg or Arthur Smith Sings Little Mix. You pick the title for being funny before you worry about what’s in it.”

Arthur Smith Sings Harry Styles?” I suggested.

“Or Arthur Smith Sings Alan Bennett,” mused Arthur. “I dunno. I don’t thing he’s done a lot of singing.”

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The late singer Leonard Cohen and the philanthropist Donald Trump and some strange things happening at the marina.

 

In the early hours of this morning, a missive arrived from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She lives on a boat in Vancouver.


Strange things are happening at the marina.

An old man on the dock, whom I’ve never met before, just greeted me with a cheerful “You’re back,” even though I have been nowhere for a month.

A friend of my extended family is an exotically dressed elderly socialite from Brazil named Benita. I feel imaginarily glamorous when I run into her. She thinks we are related. She tells me that I remind her of her aunt, the model Georgia Quental.

“She had red hair,” she tells me. “She was a free spirit like you…”

I don’t know Benita well but she is very fond of me and often wants to go out for tea. Sometimes I run into her as I am leaving the library. The last time I saw her, she greeted me, full of enthusiasm: “Anna, my darling! How was Brazil?”

I have never been to Brazil.

Benita grew up in Rio but attended an exclusive girls school on the eastern seaboard of the United States. She won an award for her artwork there. She says that one of her ancestors was a famous Scottish poet. She borrows his books from the library. I forget his name.

Sometimes she asks me: “Anna, don’t you miss South America?” as if I had left there recently

I have not been there since I was five. I missed it a lot as a child and well into adulthood. I still drink mate.

The last time I saw Benita, she told me she had just been in Greece.

“Ahhh, my darling,” she said. “You must go there. It is absolutely beautiful. I was on an island.”

“Did you go with your daughters?” I asked.

Two of her daughters live in Manhattan. They are very beautiful blondes and have worked as models. One designs jewelry and one is divorced from the heir to Budweiser. I am never sure which is which…

“Of course my dear,” Benita replied. “We were the guests of the designer, my daughter’s friend. What a gorgeous place he has, but you have to take a boat to get there. We were constantly on boats. It was beautiful. We went to Leonard Cohen’s house. He had a house on the same island. His grandchildren are living there now.”

Benita wants me to visit Rio with her. I tell her I can’t go yet, because my health is still a bit delicate. Which it is.

“You need,” she told me, “to take Palo Santo (a herb) and Ayahuasca ( a powerful hallucinogenic).”

We don’t have to go to Brazil to get Ayahuasca. There are people in North Vancouver doing it in their basements.

Two years ago I ran into Benita after I had been at a small protest against Donald Trump. There were only twelve protesters. The others were all Mexican. It was after Trump had made his comment about Mexicans being rapists.

I thought Benita would be glad I had been standing up for Latin Americans, so I told her: “I protested against Donald Trump.”

She looked a bit confused. “Why?” she asked. “What did he do?”

I told her about his comments.

“That’s strange,” she said, looking puzzled. “He is always very nice to my daughters. He always pays for their ski trips to Vermont when they go with his daughter.”

Strange things are happening.

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Namedropping in Soho: How I got no blog from Arthur Smith & Barry Cryer

The Big Four’s Edinburgh Fringe 2014 brochure, as launched

Big Four’s Edinburgh Fringe brochure had a very noisy launch

I went to the launch of the Big Four venues’ Edinburgh Fringe brochure last night. It was held downstairs at the Soho Theatre in London.

Amid the noise and sweat, I bumped into comedian Arthur Smith.

He claimed (you can never be too sure with Arthur) that he had bumped into Gilded Balloon venue owner Karen Koren just a few minutes before and she had asked him to go on stage and introduce the launch, but he was a bit vague about what was actually being launched.

“I don’t want to be over-prepared,” Arthur told me, “so, even though I appear to be going on stage to introduce this event we’re at – whatever it is – I don’t know where I’m performing at the Fringe or when – but I do know I AM on.”

In fact, he is performing for ten days (15h-24th August) at the Pleasance Courtyard.

“I must arrange to do a blog with you,” I said. “I have a blog-jam at the moment. Too many blogs recorded and not yet posted. But you’re worth it.”

“I’m going upstairs to have a fag,” he said. (Note to US readers: a fag = a cigarette)

This seemed like a good idea at the time. Go and stand outside the Soho Theatre and talk to Arthur Smith briefly while he smokes a cigarette. He has a quick fag. I get a quick blog. Arthur is always quotable.

“What are you doing at the Fringe?” I asked.

Old grey eyes is back at the Fringe

“Have there been lawyers’ letters?” – “A number of them.”

“I’m reprising my Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen, Volume 2 show from last year,” said Arthur. “Which is a bit lazy in a way: I’ve never done that before. On the other hand,  I enjoyed doing it.”

“Did Leonard Cohen enjoy you doing it?” I asked.

“I can’t say too much about that,” said Arthur. “You’ll have to come to the show. I’m sorry, I can’t comment further on this.”

“Have there been lawyers’ letters?”

“A number of them.”

“Really?”

“No. Well, I have had a letter from a lawyer, but he’s a friend of mine. He sent me a birthday card.”

“So, what are you doing at the moment?”

“I’ve just come back from four days rambling with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate. And I’m doing a bit of a tour here and there. I’m around the country doing a one-man show, I’m reprising Leonard Cohen and I’m re-training as a carpenter.”

AAAHHHH! I thought. Here is a jolly light-hearted blog about Arthur Smith rambling around the countryside with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate.

But it was not to be.

At this point, comedy promoter Hils Jago of Amused Moose walked up, heading towards the launch.

The moral is Never stand outside the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. People he knows will pass by.

“Come and be in John’s blog,” offered Arthur.

“I’m fine,” said Hils Jago. “I’m quite happy being out of John’s blog.”

“I am thinking of getting people to pay me not to be in it,” I said.

“I’ll give you £5 if it can just last another two minutes,” said Arthur. “I’ve finished me fag.”

“Already?” I asked.

“I only ever smoke half.”

The throbbing downstairs launch at Soho Theatre yesterday

Sweaty downstairs launch – London’s Soho Theatre yesterday

Then comedy writer Barry Cryer walked up. He had escaped from the throng downstairs, possibly to get some air.

“It’s John’s blog,” explained Arthur.

“My increasingly prestigious blog,” I corrected him.

“It’s John’s increasingly prestigious blog,” said Arthur without much enthusiasm, “Barry, I want to ask you a bit about this launch do. They’ve asked me to say something.”

“I don’t know what the score is,” said Barry. “All I know is the volume downstairs  is already astonishing.”

“It’s the Big Four,” explained Hils.

“The Free Fringe?” Arthur said, feigning ignorance.

“Well, there are now four free fringes,” I said innocently. “The Free Fringe, the Free Festival, Bob Slayer’s Pay-What-You-Want and the Freestival.”

“I’m going to start one up with Barry Cryer,” said Arthur. “The Old Men in The Meadows free show, every afternoon.”

“We could do an operatic one,” suggested Barry. “The Free Faustival.”

At this point, comedy actress Sally Phillips walked up on her way to a meeting.

When Barry met Arthur met Sally yesterday in Soho

When Barry met Sally with Arthur Smith yesterday in Soho

To repeat. The moral is Never stand outside the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. 

Arthur and Sally chatted.

“Are you doing the Gilded Balloon again this year?” I asked Barry.

“Yes,” he said. “Been doing that for eleven years, but Ronnie Golden and I are going up together separately this year. So I‘m performing with Colin Sell from the radio show. We’re going to have a piano on the stage (at the Gilded Balloon).”

“A grand?”

“No, an upright. A concert grand would take up the whole of the stage in the Wine Bar.”

“Are you going to be tinkling the ivories yourself?”

“No, no. I can just about sing, but…”

Barry then told me a story from which I will extract the comedian’s name, in case it is misunderstood.

Barry Cryer, comedy storyteller, yesterday

Barry yesterday revealed he has not met two Popes

“(Name of comedian),” said Barry, “who I was with the other day – one of my oldest friends – Two friends of his came to see me do a gig with Ronnie Golden and told (name of comedian): We didn’t know Barry could sing! And (name of comedian) said Of course he can. He used to be black!

I laughed.

“I must tell Brian that,” Barry mused.

Is Lewis Schaffer here?” I thought.

“Sally – Barry,” Arthur interrupted. “Barry. Do you know Sally?”

“I know and respect her,” said Barry.

“There’s no-one,” said Arthur, “that Barry hasn’t met…”

“With the exception of two Popes,” said Barry.

“Which two?” asked Arthur. “Oh yeah, Constantine and…”

“I want to ask Sally what she thinks,” said Barry. “There’s a spirited debate downstairs. Do you like women being described as actors rather than actresses?”

“I don’t care,” said Sally. “It just seems a bit pointless.”

Maureen Lipman and I had a real up-and-down argument,” explained Barry. “She said Of course we’re actors! and I said You do the same job in the same way, but do you call a waitress a waiter?

“Yeah,” said Arthur, “but you don’t call a traffic warden a traffic wardeness.”

After my Edinburgh Fringe chat show in 2013, Arthur Smith left Edinburgh (Photo by  Brian Higgins)

Immediately after my chat show in 2013, Arthur fled Edinburgh a broken man (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“Are comedy women comediennes?” I asked. “Janey Godley calls herself a comedienne and she’s from Glasgow, so it’s not an affectation.”

“I try to avoid…” started Sally.

“I’m with Maureen,” muttered Arthur.

“We did a Comic Relief together years ago…” said Barry.

“Yes,” said Sally.

“…with Mel Smith,” continued Barry. “We were supposed to be comedy writers sitting round a table. You were there and he was supposed to be the producer of EastEnders and we had no lines. He just kept looking at us going Ideas! Ideas! Ideas! It was a running gag. So we had to get someone to keep us going through the afternoon. So Danny Baker was there…”

“Barry,” said Arthur, “Sally’s come to meet someone…”

“It’s like Tourette’s with me,” said Barry. “So I got the mobile out. I said I”ve gotta leave. I’m doing the warm-up for Eminem tonight. So that became the running gag. Baz has to leave. He’s doing the warm-up for Eminem. Mel said: Baz, what do you do before Eminem comes on? And Danny Baker said (in a posh English accent) Are there any motherfuckers here from Northampton?

Arthur said: “Poor Sally’s just…”

And, at that point, the merry throng broke up.

I lament the loss of a blog about Arthur Smith rambling with a rock star, a solicitor, two actors and a reprobate.

And – Did I mention? – The moral is Never stand outside Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. 

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