Tag Archives: manager

Other people’s lives: the schooldays of UK music legend Simon Napier-Bell

This blog is occasionally called a “comedy blog”, but it is really about interesting people doing interesting, often creative, things – and about other people’s often far-from-normal lives. 

Of course, ‘normal’ is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Simon Napier-Bell has been called (by Billboard magazine) a “multi-hyphenate British entrepreneur”, (by many) “a bon viveur”, (by himself on his own websitean “author, songwriter, film-maker and public speaker” and (by the Guardian and others) “one of Britain’s most successful ever pop managers”.

The acts he managed included Marc Bolan and T Rex, Boney M, George Michael and Wham!, Sinéad O’Connor, Ultravox… and the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

He currently lives in Thailand.

Today is his 79th birthday.

These are his thoughts:


Because it’s my birthday today I was searching though the past to find a good birthday to write about.

An intimidating evening of conversation with Harold Pinter, Clive Donner and Donald Pleasance at the Connaught in the 1960s.

An extravagantly debauched dinner with Spanish pop stars Camilo Sesto and Antonio Morales at the Masquerade Club in Earls Court in the 70s.

A Beluga binge at Petrossian in New York with Vicki Wickham in the 80s.

Not to mention all the birthday dinners with special friends of the moment, or the ones that ended up with too much boozing in night clubs, often with much shagging afterwards.

One birthday that jumped to mind was rather different. It was my first year at public school and the start of the summer term. I was still in what was called a ‘junior’ house, with a cantankerous, malevolent housemaster – Mr Hoare.

Bryanston School in Dorset (Photograph by Ben Brooksbank)

Two terms earlier I’d arrived from grammar school with the wrong accent and the wrong attitude. I’d quickly modified my accent but hadn’t done so well with my attitude. 

Everything I did or said seemed to rile Mr Hoare terribly; he hated me. And inevitably I hated him back.

On my 14th birthday, my best friend took me to the tuck shop and asked me what I’d like. Not wanting to overtax his good nature, I modestly chose a can of condensed milk.

That evening, with the can only half finished, I discreetly smuggled it into the dormitory and after lights out handed it round. Then the lights flashed on again.

It was Mr Hoare. I was hauled out of the room, taken downstairs and made to sleep on a camp bed in the cupboard where the cleaning utensils were kept – a couple of Hoovers, buckets, mops, that sort of thing.

That wasn’t the only present he gave me for my 14th birthday. The second one was to make me sleep there for the rest of the term. And instead of being able to use the communal bathroom and toilets I had to use an outside shack in the garden. It wasn’t how I would have chosen to live for the next ten weeks but I’ve always been one to cope with situations, so I just got on with it.

On the last day of term, as the coach was arriving to take us all to the railway station, Mr Hoare presented me with my two-month old, half-finished can of condensed milk. 

Disdainfully, I threw it into the waste bin. Mr Hoare was splenetic, “Napier-Bell. Aren’t we meant to say thank-you when someone gives us something?”

In my purest, sweetest public school tones, I said’ “Thank-you, sir.” But as I turned to get on the coach I was shocked to hear my mouth add something totally unintended. “And I hope you die, sir.”

It was certainly what I felt but definitely not something I’d intended to say. I spent the holidays in dread of the inevitable letter to my parents telling them I’d been expelled, but it never came.

And when I went back to school the next term I was in a new house with a new housemaster and no mention was made of what I’d said. A little later however, at morning assembly, the headmaster informed the school that Mr Hoare had died.

I can’t pretend I wasn’t pleased. But it was still quite a shock. And I have to admit from then on I’ve been rather careful about wishing bad on anybody. So for my birthday today, good wishes to everybody. May you all have long, happy, lovely lives.

(But never take a child’s condensed milk away.)

 

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“When I was a teenager I got a a job at the concession stand at a cinema…”

A Darth Vader mime artist in Amsterdam (No, it is not relevant to anything)

Darth Vader mime artist stands in Amsterdam (No, it is not in any way relevant to anything)

I was going to blog about something else today but overslept, got sidetracked and now have to go out sharpish.

What do you want? Blood?

Fortunately, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith sent me an e-mail.

I never mentioned the movie Star Wars to her.

Nevertheless, she wrote:

__________

I myself am less than thrilled by Star Wars. When I was a teenager I got a a job at the concession stand at a cinema in Toronto. I anticipated an exciting future watching movies for free, saw Casanova, which I found ugly and clumsy, and then the first Star Wars movie arrived and played for months on end, blotting out anything else. I felt terribly guilty about selling the unhealthy coconut greased yellow popcorn and gigantic candy bars, and (possibly) cigarettes. The only thing interesting about the job was that the manager was a terribly obese pale young man who always wore a suit. When passers-by caught a glimpse of him through the lobby’s glass, they could not help but do a double take, which would throw him into a garish rage. He would stare back at them, gesticulating and shouting: “Go ahead! STARE at me… I’m FAT… STARE ALL YOU LIKE!”… That was more memorable than the movies.

__________

And that is what Anna wrote.

Personally, I think a vivid vignette often outweighs relevance.

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Money in comedy: Mr Methane’s problem; critic Kate Copstick’s rant

mrmethanebendsYesterday, I blogged about a discussion at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival about whether the future of British comedy lies online instead of in live comedy clubs.

After he read my blog, Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing flatulist – he’s farted around the showbiz world for years – told me this:

_______________________________

I think its already happening, at least in the case of acts like mine.

People no longer have to go out to see some weird stuff anymore. They get sent it over the net by their mates seven days of the week and so, when they go out, they don’t go out to see something bizarre or different. Also the smoking ban has played its part as has the price of beer compared to Bargain Booze & Aldi for example.

All in all, people who want to see bizarre stuff nowadays are used to getting it for free on YouTube and the like: they don’t want to pay for it.

This means I get more exposure than I’ve ever had in the 23 years I’ve been farting around – just one YouTube vid of me has over 28 million views – but it doesn’t translate into more paid gigs.

If anything, it is a declining scale and you have to look to other revenue streams and opportunities the net presents which, when you’re not a Freemason or related to someone high up in the BBC, requires all your ingenuity and a good dose of good luck – This you can only make by doing even more free, web-based, social media publicity.

Possibly I and others like me are in a slow downward spiral. But, all this said, now I’ve had a moan, these are potentially more exciting times – or is that just another word for changing times? Either way, what is happening is a doubled-edged sword.

With regard to the Comedy Store Raw & Uncut film… Remember what happened to the acts that were on The Comedians on ITV. Big exposure but, when they came to do their next gig at a working men’s club, the audience had already seen their act.

The saying Swings & Roundabouts comes to mind.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

davesleicester_logoMaking money from a comedy act was also something discussed by the panel yesterday at Dave’s Comedy Festival (Dave being the TV channel which sponsors the festival).

“I think something ghastly and toxic happened round about the early to mid 2000s,” said comedy critic Kate Copstick.

“In the 1990s, there really wasn’t very much available for comics on television. So, before they all hurtled lemming-like to the nearest 12-year-old commissioning editor with half a Media Studies degree from a jumped-up Polytechnic, they at least had a chance to develop who they were and they had something to sell.

“Then we got the industrialisation of comedy which happened in the 2000s. All of a sudden there were more TV channels and…”

“There were more opportunities,” interrupted Nica Burns, organiser of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. “There were more opportunities for comedians to get on television. There were all these channels and comedy is very cheap. A half hour of stand-up comedy is much cheaper than a half hour of sitcom and a fraction of the cost of an hour of drama. And that is the critical thing because underlying all this is money. They needed to fill up their hours, comedy was a very cheap way of doing it and the comedians were desperate to get a wider audience.”

“It took a long time for that to come around,” said Kate Copstick, “and, in one way it was wonderful when it did. I produced a TV show called The Warehouse and comics were gagging then to get a chance to do stand-up. There were very few places to go on television. Tiny bits-and-bobs. And then, all-of-a-sudden, there was a rush. It think it was something to do with (agent/management companies) Avalon and Off The Kerb not only having a foothold as managers but also as producers.”

“There were a lot of things coming together,” agreed Nica Burns, “in terms of the growth of managers who had career visions for their clients.”

“And none of that,” said Kate Copstick, “was bad until it all kind of turned toxic. Comedy is not a nice business and it’s not got nice people in it. Really, genuinely nice people don’t go into comedy. Comedy always had a career ladder. Now it’s got a bloody express elevator.

“Like I’m 18-year-old. I’m a student comic. I look right. I sound right. I’m fucking lucky. I’m possibly connected. Look! I’ve got five minutes. Good grief – I’ve won a student comedy competition! Crikey – now I’m at the Edinburgh Fringe! Woo – now someone’s picked me up and stuck me on a Stand-Up For The Pointless Pre-Written Gag of The Month TV show. Great! Now I’m back with my own one-hour show with a strap on the poster that says STAR OF the Stand-Up For The Pointless Pre-Written Gag of The Month TV show. Now I’ve won the Best Newcomer or the Panel prize because nobody can think of anybody else to give it to. Next thing you know, I’ve done five heavily-edited minutes of Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow and now I’ve got my own telly series!… and I didn’t ever actually want to be a stand-up comic. I just wanted to be rich and famous and wey-hey! Thanks to luck, ego and Addison Cresswell (of Off The Kerb) and lots of stupid audiences out there, now I am!

“What then happens is that the decent stand-up comics, the ones who do want to be stand-up comics and who want to play the clubs, aren’t getting audiences, because the audiences only go – like a comedic Pavlov’s dog – where there’s a TV sticker on the poster… STAR OF MUFFIN THE COMEDY MULE – Oh wow! That must be good!

“I could shit into a bag and, if some high-powered PR person stuck an As Seen on Mock The Week sticker on it, people would come and see it. They genuinely would! This is not good for comedy.”

(A slightly edited podcast of the panel session is on the Demon FM website.)

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Charlie Chuck, comic and cook + Janey Godley, comic and football manager

Charlie Chuck in Leicester last night

Yesterday, I drove up with a friend to see the first of Charlie Chuck’s two shows at the Leicester Comedy Festival. The Looking Glass venue was a bit like the Black Hole of Calcutta with laughs. The venue was filled to the brim.

Charlie Chuck is one of those comedians with a fan base that just goes on and on. I think it is because his first TV fame with James Whale and Reeves & Mortimer was among impoverished students who have grown up and now have the money to go out and see him live on stage.

Before he set off for the show, he cooked us one of his speciality spaghetti Bologneses. After the show, my friend and I scoured late night shops for a doughnut, a cream bun and a sliceable cake to share with him. Eventually, we got a cake and doughnuts filled with custard. Close enough.

He should be in the Celebrity Big Brother house. He can cook, he can hit annoying twats with his plank of wood and he could nurture ducks in the jacuzzi.

By the time I got home to Borehamwood, it was almost 4.00 am – just enough time to sleep, get up and listen to Janey Godley on Al Murray’s BBC Radio 5 Live show 7 Day Sunday where he introduced her as a “stand-up comedy actress and Groucho Club barfly”. Hardly a barfly, as she does not drink. They talked, among other things, about who should be the new England football manager.

Not mentioned on the programme was that, back in November 2009, when Scotland was looking for a manager and the press were semi-seriously touting Sean Connery for the post, Janey phoned up the Scottish Football Association and applied for the job

According to her blog at the time, she told them that she scored over Sean Connery “because I actually live in Scotland”. But her main qualifications, she argued to Scottish FA boss Gordon Smith, were that “I can order men about, I can actually play football and I am great at strategy – What’s not to like?”

“Do you have a valid coaching licence?” Gordon Smith asked her.

“No, but I do know ’Hologram’ Tam and he is the world’s best forger and he can get me one,” she told him.

The much-admired ‘Hologram’ Tam (I have a T-shirt) used to produce Janey’s Edinburgh Fringe posters before he was caught red-handed in his small Glasgow printshop which reportedly “had the ability to churn out £1 billion a year in fake cash”

Sadly, Janey’s football managing ambitions were dashed to much the same extent as ‘Hologram’ Tam’s hopes of grabbing as much money as the UK’s top bankers.

Ironically, Tam got a six year prison sentence for making money; but top bankers now get bonuses for losing money; and, with ‘quantitive easing’, the Bank of England is now in the business of printing funny money.

The Scottish FA accepted Janey’s application but foolishly never called her for interview.

I feel it was their loss.

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Exclusively revealed here: plans for an Alternative Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

(A version of this blog was published later the same day by the Huffington Post)

The Edinburgh Fringe does not happen until August, but performers – and especially comedians – start planning for it now – in late-December.

The big problem, of course, is the cost. I have reckoned for the last few years that, to stage a professionally-promoted show at the Fringe, costs a performer around £7,000 to £8,000 and you have to assume a 100% loss.

I may be out-of-date, though.

Comedy whirlwind Bob Slayer, formerly in the music business, reckons it now costs £12,000+ to run a show over the Fringe’s three-and-a-half weeks in a ‘paid’ venue. That means the performer pays to hire the venue and the audience pay to see the show.

This week, on the Chortle comedy industry website, he wrote about the opportunities for building a comedy career in a new way.

Now he has gone further.

“The Edinburgh Fringe is a wonderful thing,” he tells me, “but few punters realise the extent to which it is bankrolled by the performers themselves. The vast majority of so-called ‘promoters’ at the Fringe rent rooms to performers just like a landlord. And they sell marketing packages like an agency. What they do not do is take the same financial risks that a real promoter does.”

It is even worse than that. The major venues, in effect, force performers to pay around £500 to be included in their own printed programmes on top of the £295-£393 all performers pay to be included in the main Fringe programme. And then there are unavoidable PR and ticket-handling costs.

“By passing the actual financial risk on to the performer, they are effectively making the performer act as the promoter with a limited upside,” says Bob. “In the music industry this would be called Pay-To-Play and something that you only really find at the lowest level. What performers need at the Fringe is the opportunity to put on shows without risking ridiculous amounts of money.”

For this reason, the last few years has seen a gigantic increase in the number of free Fringe shows, with the PBH Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

The performers do not pay any money to hire a free venue and the audience do not pay for tickets. At the end of the show, they can give as much or as little (or no) money to the performer as they feel the show has been worth. In effect, it is like busking.

American comic Lewis Schaffer – as I mentioned in a recent blog – has brought this ‘free’ performance concept to London with his Free Until Famous show – it is now the longest-running one-man comedy show in the West End and he is taking this free show on a mini-tour of UK arts centres in 2012.

“The huge growth of free shows,” says Bob Slayer, “highlights the increasing demand for an alternative to shelling out so much money to put on a Fringe show. These shows are becoming the place where acts can grow an audience without getting into debt. But there remains a huge gap between the free and paid shows.”

That gap is mainly the gigantic advance cost of paying venue hire. The traditional paid-for Fringe venues charge the performers to hire their venues and also take a percentage of the box office returns (usually split 60/40 in the artist’s favour). The free venues, on the other hand, charge no rental fee and take no percentage of the voluntary donations that punters put in the performer’s bucket.

A couple of years ago, there was hope that the so-called ‘£5 Fringe’ could bridge the gigantic gap between traditional and free venues, but it could not be made to work economically.

Bob reckons he has another model, though, halfway between the free and paid models.

“If a venue did not charge performers rent, had a fair deal based on a profit split, did not waste money on poster sites and set reasonable ticket prices, it could succeed. That is why, during the 2012 Fringe, my Heroes of Alternative Comedy company is linking up with Laughing Horse (who run the Free Festival) at The Hive venue in Edinburgh. We will co-promote paid shows that do not charge artists rent to hire their venues.

“I will be booking four paid shows in the prime evening slots (hourly 6pm to 10pm) in the main room of The Hive.

“They will run alongside free shows during the day and in the second room. All income from the first ticket sold will be split 70/30 in the artist’s favour. As well as shows running throughout the three-and-a-half weeks of the Fringe, we can also accommodate second shows and shorter runs of one or two weeks.”

At The Hive, both the free and the paid shows will run under the banner of The Alternative Fringe, with listings in both the main Fringe Programme and the Free Festival programme.

It is an interesting idea and might, indeed work.

Performers will have a box office income related to the number of people they can attract with a guaranteed payment per-bum-on-seat. But they will not have to pay the standard up-front costs at all: in particular, no venue hire and no enforced publicity charges.

There is also a problem, of course, with rapacious agent/management companies. I was told a story this week about an Edinburgh Fringe show several years ago which took £33,000 at the box office. I believe the pre-arranged box office deal was the standard 60/40 split in the performer’s favour. After deductions – and several months later – the performer received a cheque for £400 as his split of the profits.

But that, as they say, is another story.

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How did spaghetti-juggling get into this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme?

The ever-energetic comic Bob Slayer is looking after The Hive venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the Laughing Horse Free Festival and, back in January, he asked me if I wanted to do any chat-type shows based on my blog.

I had already arranged to stage a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe.

So we arranged that I would precede this with four ‘talking head’ shows. Debates, but with comedians. I would chair the first two and doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) would chair the second two. The subjects seemed quite clear:

On Monday – “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – based on a blog I wrote which comedy industry website Chortle later used.

On Tuesday – “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – again based on a blog of mine which Chortle later printed.

On Wednesday –  “Have the Big Boys Fucked Up The Fringe?” about large promoters, producers and management agencies’ effect on the Fringe.

On Thursday – “Are Bono, Bob and the Big Boys Fucking Up The World?” about charity and aid money.

This was all OK until Copstick discovered, at the last moment, that she had to be in London for the final of ITV’s new reality TV series Show Me The Funny on the same days as her planned Fringe debates – and possibly rehearsing in London on the previous two days.

This happened a few days before the final Fringe Programme deadline, when the titles and billings had already been submitted.

I have always wanted to hear the introduction, “And now… a man juggling spaghetti…”

I would accept a woman. If you have a spare one, let me know.

But, if I could hear that introduction and then see someone do it, I could die happy and fulfilled.

Since the mid-1980s, when I was working on the LWT series Game For a Laugh, through series like The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, I half-heartedly tried to find someone who could juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute. It appears it cannot be done. In the 1990s, I tried with the brilliant juggler Steve Rawlings, at which point, I gave up – If he can’t do it, no-one can do it, I thought – but it has always simmered away at the back of my mind.

So, on the basis that I could not think of anything better, I decided to hold the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One (who knows if there will be a Year Two, but it sounds good) at the Laughing Horse Free Fringe venue which is exactly what it says in the name – Outside The Beehive – in Grassmarket for 45 minutes on the final Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It should be messy and, if it rains, shambolically messy – a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee. But it might get a few pictures in the media and/or some word-of-mouth to plug the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the Friday night. And I suspect I can get quite a few comics to wander along and take part as well as members of the public.

The submission has gone in to Guinness to see if – in the unlikely event someone can actually keep cooked spaghetti in the air for more than a minute – they would actually recognise spaghetti-juggling as a world record.

Now all I have to do is find somewhere to get large amounts of cooked spaghetti on two nights in Edinburgh in late August…

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Edinburgh Fringe publicity stunts: the planned drowning of Malcolm Hardee

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – there are currently three of them – are being given every August until the year 2017. This is because that’s the number of physical awards I got mad inventor John Ward to make.

Of these three prestigious annual prizes, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (won last year by Stewart Lee) honours the best publicity stunt for any act or show at the Edinburgh Fringe that year.

There are no rules for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. If there were, Malcolm’s ashes would turn in their urn. But one rule-of-thumb for the Cunning Stunt Award is that people do not have to apply to be considered. Because, if you have to tell the judges you have done a publicity stunt then, by definition, the stunt has failed.

I started the Cunning Stunt Awards because it seemed to me that the marketing and publicising of comedy shows on the Fringe had become too serious and what was lacking was a bit of mindless irresponsibility. The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award aims to encourage this.

The late lamented Malcolm was a comedian, club owner, compere, manager and sometimes agent, but it was often and correctly claimed that his real comedy act was his life off-stage and, at the Fringe, he was known for his stunts – writing a review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into printing it under the byline of their own comedy critic; driving a tractor naked through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show; announcing at a press conference that Glenda Jackson had died then eventually adding, “No, not that Glenda Jackson.”

If it had not been his mother who phoned me up in 2005 and told me Malcolm had drowned, I would probably have thought it was a publicity stunt.

Especially as, a few years before, I had tried to persuade Malcolm to fake his own death by drowning, as a publicity stunt.

The Assembly Rooms venue (now re-branded as simply Assembly) were paying him that year to do a show for the duration of the Edinburgh Fringe but he had also somehow managed to double-book himself on a mini-tour of South Africa.

“My kids have never been to South Africa,” he told me dolefully. This was after he had already started his Fringe run at the Assembly Rooms. “I think I’ll just do a runner.”

“How will the Assembly Rooms react?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged his shoulders, blinked a bit and mumbled something inaudible, as he often did.

“Rather than pissing-off the Assembly,” I suggested, “why don’t you fake your own death?”

Malcolm had once been in prison with disgraced MP John Stonehouse, who had faked his own death by drowning then been found living with his mistress in Australia.

“You could hire a car in Edinburgh,” I suggested, “and drive it to North Berwick. Leave it near the beach with your clothes in a bundle nearby and something in the clothes which has your identity on it – a letter addressed to you, maybe. Then piss off to South Africa.”

“Mmmmm…” Malcolm mumbled.

“You go off to South Africa for two weeks,” I continued, “When you come back, you can read your own obituaries, with luck you can go to your own funeral and everyone including the Assembly will think it’s a great joke that’s in character. It’s a triple whammy. You get to go to South Africa for two weeks, you get publicity and you don’t piss-off the Assembly too much.”

Malcolm thought about it for a bit.

“I can’t do it,” he eventually said to me. “The only way it would work is if I didn’t tell Jane (his then wife) or my mum.”

Malcolm was a surprisingly sensitive man:

“They’d get hurt,” he said. “It wouldn’t work unless I didn’t tell them and I couldn’t not tell them.”

So that particular publicity stunt was never pulled.

One day, he just never turned up for his show at the Assembly Rooms. He had gone to South Africa. I don’t think, under the circumstances, the Assembly Rooms took it too badly.

I guess they just shrugged their shoulders and thought:

“Fuck it! It’s just Malcolm.”

(This year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards, including the Cunning Stunt Award, will be announced on the evening of Friday 26th August during a two-hour comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe.)

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