Tag Archives: Muncaster Castle

A Fool and his comedy crown are soon parted in a world of murderous animals

Muncaster Castle - lovely, if isolated

Muncaster Castle – lovely, slightly eccentric and a bit isolated (Perhaps like the psychological make-up of many performers)

Yesterday I was in the Lake District in north west England. It is a lovely area but not for me. Cumbria is one vast hilly area widely bereft of WiFi or even mobile phone signals.

If the choice is between having WiFi, mobile phone signals and 24-hour supermarkets in a city… or living 20 miles from the nearest chocolate shop in idyllic countryside surrounded by the agonised howls and screams of cuddly woodland creatures ripping each others throats out every night, give me the city every time.

Cumbria is very pretty except for Barrow-in-Furness.

As an ITV researcher on Surprise! Surprise!, I once had to go there to talk to a blind man who wanted us to make his dream come true by helping him make a parachute jump. I saw Barrow-in-Furness in heavy drizzle. He was lucky to be blind.

We were going to arrange a (perfectly safe) parachute jump for him but, about a week after I met him, BBC TV managed to kill a contestant on Noel Edmonds’ Late Late Breakfast Show and we decided to abort anything which sounded even potentially dangerous.

Abi Collins aka Katinka - Muncaster’s first female Fool

Abi Collins aka Katinka – the first female Fool

Anyway, I was in Cumbria yesterday to see Martin Soan end his year-long reign as Fool of Muncaster Castle and hand the title on to the new Fool – chosen by a panel of experts.

Abi Collins aka Katinka won it – the first female Fool in the contest’s short history.

“What did you have to do all year?” I asked Martin.

“Absolutely nothing,” he told me.

“Wasn’t there something about beer?” I asked.

“The prize was free alcohol for the year,” said Martin, “but you had to be in Muncaster Castle to get your free beer and I live in London.”

Yesterday, he rushed back down to London after the day-long Muncaster Castlle event, to set up tonight’s Pull The Other One monthly comedy show in Nunhead.

“And then you’re off to do Pull The Other One in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Yes, on Sunday,” he replied. “… No! I leave for Leipzig on Monday! On Sunday, I’m writing a new show with Boothby Graffoe.”

Martin Soan yesterday with ceramic cigarette end in hat

Martin Soan yesterday with ceramic cigarette-end in his hat

“For the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“For this year?”

“No. Next year.”

“What is it?”

“It’s taking all the tiny little elements I’ve been working on for years and years that I’ve made part successful and I now want to thread them all together into a beautiful tapestry of well-choreographed nonsense, madness and chaotic, sublime comedy.”

“Ye Gods,” I said, “You’ve already written the PR blurb, then?”

I relax in the grounds of Muncaster Castle yesterday (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

I try to feel at home in the rural grounds of Muncaster Castle (Idyllic photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

“It wasn’t bad, was it?” laughed Martin, “but that’s exactly what I want to do.”

“Why with Boothby?” I asked.

“Because it’s a huge jigsaw puzzle, he knows me inside-out, it’s difficult to be objective and he’s very good at turning rubbish into sparkling gems.”

“I know the feeling,” I said.

I sometimes wonder if the blind man ever made his parachute jump.

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Comedy club Pull The Other One will stage a rival to this year’s Glastonbury Festival, headlined by rock band Oasis

A couple of weeks ago, Vivienne Soan phoned me up to tell me she had been certified.

She is now a certified teacher of Laughter Yoga.

In the Laughter Yoga movement, yesterday was the 17th annual World Laughter Day.

Yesterday Vivienne and her husband Martin Soan – who run the monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in London – came to my home for dinner because they had been to a laughter workshop in nearby St Albans.

Shortly after they arrived, Martin and I went out to buy him some beer. When we returned, Vivienne and my eternally un-named friend had built a wigwam in my back garden.

Vivienne (top) and un-named friend

Vivienne (top) and un-named friend yesterday

“Didn’t you have one as a child?” Vivienne asked me.

“No,” I replied.

“I thought everyone had one,” said Vivienne.

“Not me,” I said.

My eternally un-named friend said she had not had a real wigwam as a child and had had to make-do with some cardboard boxes.

I did not even have cardboard boxes.

Life can be a trial.

In a couple of weeks, Martin is going up to Muncaster Castle in Cumbria. Last year, Martin was chosen as Muncaster Castle’s Fool for a year. This year’s Fools festival is being held 25th-29th May. So he has to drive up to Cumbria, attend the choosing of this year’s Fool on 29th May, then drive overnight back down to London to set up the regular monthly Pull The Other One on 30th May.

“Then the next morning,” he told me, “I have to pack up the set and travel out to Leipzig where I do a week’s pre-publicity with Vivienne for our Pull The Other One show on 7th June.”

Upcoming Leizig PTOO show

Upcoming Pull The Other One show Leipzig

“And that’s now going to be a regular show in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Bi-monthly until we live there.”

“You are still thinking of moving to Leipzig?” I asked.

“Definitely,” said Martin.

“Martin,” said Vivienne, “I keep getting people come up to me and saying Oh! You’re still here, are you? I thought you were moving to Leipzig. It’s a long-term plan.”

“Definitely,” said Martin.

“It’s the end intention,” I suggested.

“Well, said Martin, “not the end. The beginning.”

“You can speak German?” I asked.

“Of course not,” said Martin. “Nein. Einen Aschenbecher danke.”

“What does that mean?”

“An ashtray, thankyou.”

Vivienne Soan yesterday

Vivienne Soan and palm yesterday

“It just shows,” said Vivienne, “how long he’s taken to learn that phrase. He gave up smoking five years ago.”

“It’s handy, though,” said Martin. “I intend to live in Leipzig sooner rather than later. Viv will be able to get work out there.”

“Well,” said Viv. “If I could, that would be great.”

“We WILL be able to get work out there,” said Martin.

“I hope so,” said Vivienne.

“We ARE going to get work out there,” said Martin.

“Gizza job,” said Vivienne. “Put that in your blog, John. Has anybody got any work for us out there?”

“What I intend,” said Martin, “is to create an annual Festival of The Surreal and get funding for it in Leipzig. The Greatest Show on Legs have always had an element of popular appeal but always with an edge of the surreal.

“I want to get away from all these absurdists and de-constructionists and surrealists and just get back to proper good old-fashioned British eccentricity. I think the continent – and especially Leipzig – is going to open their arms to us, because they seem to have lost that appeal in their cabaret.

“They have very strict, skill-based cabaret. Which is very good. But very much like Cabaret the movie. Great compere. Lovely song and dance routines. And all the artists are very skill-based – contortionists, magicians. But the absurdist side of things – though I don’t want to use words like that – the eccentric side – is lost.”

“What’s the distinction between absurdist and surreal?” I asked.

Vivienne suggested: “Absurdism is like big, big, big. Surrealism is more cerebral and pictorial.”

Martin Soan

Martin Soan in my living room on a previous visit

“If you take it literally,” said Martin, “surrealism is real things taken and given extra meaning. Absurdism is real things with no meaning whatsoever. The one common denominator in comedy between absurdism, surrealism and deconstructionism is it has got to be entertaining and funny. That’s what I want to get back to. It’s easy to be absurd and not funny. Are you going to Glastonbury this year?”

“No,” I answered forlornly.

“We are doing a Pull The Other One Glastonbury Festival Special on Friday 27th June – Glastonbury weekend. Basically, people can save themselves a shedload of cash, come to our show in Nunhead and experience exactly what they would at Glastonbury. We’re going to have a very frightening, naked person walking around drunk and shouting, installations, top-notch comedians, very high profile bands…”

“Such as?” I asked.

Oasis are headlining this year,” said Martin.

“And…?” I asked.

Boothby Graffoe,” replied Martin.

“I’ll be coming then,” I said.

“I have The Poet For Hire booked,” added Martin.

“Who he?”

“He’s one of those installation guys. I’ve got a juggler, a face-painter, everything you would experience at Glastonbury – including a really shitty toilet and the audience will sit in little tents.”

“How will people see over the tent in front of them?” I asked.

“I’m building levels,” said Martin. “It will be tiered tenting.”

“And all this,” I asked, “is going to be in the upstairs room of the Old Nun’s Head pub?”

Martin Soan sits by my Picasso yesterday (free with The Scotsman newspaper)

Martin Soan sits by my Picasso yesterday (It was free in the Scotsman newspaper)

“Yes,” said Martin.

“And you’re going to have Oasis playing?” I asked.

“Definitely,” said Martin. “I’m going to have one of their record covers on stage and play a track of their music and that’s exactly what it would be like at Glastonbury – just like you would see them very, very far away.”

“What about the rain and mud at Glastonbury?” I asked.

Martin ignored this, but I think it is a very valid question, although maybe surrealism would insist on no rain and no mud at a re-imagining of Glastonbury.

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Comic Martin Soan might be a genius. Comedian Bob Slayer could be a fool.

“I don’t know why Mercedes-Benz have never used that in an advertisement,” Martin Soan said to me yesterday.

A triple-bladed wind turbine as seen on a 12-hour train trip

A triple-bladed wind turbine as seen on our 12-hour train trip

We were looking at the triple blades of a wind turbine machine in a field somewhere in the former West Germany as we passed during our 12-hour rail trip back to the UK.

It is a simple idea – seeing wind turbine blades and thinking of a ‘green’ ad image for Mercedes-Benz.

But it is a simple, obvious idea which almost no-one else except Martin would ever spot.

Mercedes_benz_silverlogo

Triple-bladed wind turbine as seen by Martin

Which is what makes his comedy ideas on stage so original – performing Michael Jackson’s Thriller wearing five rubber bands; performing the Red Arrows’ aerial acrobatics as the Red Sparrows with giant red cardboard cut-out sparrows, choreographing the Greatest Show On Legs’ naked balloon dance with a handful (and mouthful) of balloons.

Martin Soan in full jester garb last night

Martin Soan in a pub

Martin is currently the official 2013-2014 ‘Fool’ at Muncaster Castle in the UK.

Which came to mind when I woke up this morning to three e-mails from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. Attached to the e-mails were three photographs of a man in a jester’s costume in Vancouver.

Arty the Jester in Vancouver

Arty the Jester in Vancouver, a potential Fool

“Arty would like information about Jester gigs over in the UK,” Anna told me. “Are there any dry castles coming up soon? He just needs a little break from all the men in Vancouver who won’t stop trying to wine and dine him, pick him up at work or get him to pose in the nude for artistic purposes. Here is a picture of him on Denman Street, after a chilly day of performing at the aquarium. I ought to ask him if he would also consider work as a lady lifter.”

“Well,” I replied, “Martin Soan is currently Muncaster Castle’s Fool. It’s the place where Tom Fool used to be jester and is the origin of the term ‘tomfoolery’. See my 2013 blog. Their contest to find a 2014-2015 fool held is on 29th May this year.

Another e-mail in my Inbox this morning was from comedian Bob Slayer, who is running a venue – Heroes @ Hansom Hall – as part of the current Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival.

I would not dare say he is a prime candidate for Fool.

Well, OK, I would.

Bob Slayer in Leicester last Friday

Bob Slayer at Dave’s Leicester Festival last year

He told me that, last weekend, there was a good-sized audience at his venue waiting to see The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society featuring Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning Johnny Sorrow.

Bob Blackman was a man who, in the 1970s, became famous for appearing on television and hitting a metal tray on his head while singing the song Mule Train.

Bob Slayer is not a man who is averse to drinking. Excessively.

A few days before last weekend’s show – due to extremely serious circumstances genuinely beyond their control – The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society had sent Bob Slayer an e-mail telling him they would not be able to make the show. Bob had forgotten this.

He had also forgotten he had replied to them in an e-mail, giving his genuine sympathies for their unfortunate reasons.

“This certainly highlights,” Bob told me in his e-mail to me this morning, “the dangers of me responding to my e-mails late at night after a long session ‘testing’ the Brewdog Beers for our bar…”

When Bob Slayer suddenly remembered, moments before the allotted show started, that the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society were not coming, he turned to absurdist comedian Adam Larter and “suggested that we had two options: We can either tell them that the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society has had to cancel and offer to entertain them ourselves OR we simply go on stage and show them what the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society would have done if they had been there… 

There is a clip of the real Bob Blackman Appreciation Society in action on YouTube.

“I picked up the back stage microphone,” Bob Slayer told me in his e-mail this morning, “and began a prolonged introduction from behind the wings, which involved asking the room to select one person to count down from 37, then announced: You may have seen him before, but never quite like this. Please welcome the one, the only, the very real and original Bob Blackman… 

“I bounded out to the closest thing Luke the sound tech could find to Mule Train – well, I think it was a Chuck Berry rock & roll song – and repeatedly banged myself over the head with a tin sign for Brewdog Beers. Adam occasionally wandered back and forth behind me in nothing but a pair of orange tights.”

Later, in what I suspect might have seemed quite a confusing show, Adam became a ventriloquist’s dummy and Bob Slayer tells me that Adam “unexpectedly pulled a bag of skittles out of his tights and ate them” (the skittles).

This seemed a bit extreme, even for Adam, until I realised Bob Slayer meant a bag of Skittles (children’s sweets) not a bag of actual skittles.

Although, on the other hand…

Anyway, Adam then announced to the audience: “I think that maybe you now all know that The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society are unfortunately not able to be here tonight…”

But, Bob Slayer told me this morning, “it seems no-one ever believes that a comedian on stage is telling the truth and the confusion continued. I fuelled the confusion further with the statement: …which is, of course, exactly what an act like The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society would say.”

There is a clip of the original Bob Blackman on YouTube. He is not to be confused with The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society.

“Adam Larter then announced: “We are Not The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society and we are not here tonight…” and, says Bob Slayer, “we continued for at least the next hour with random sound effects from Luke the sound tech.

“There was dancing, chair balancing. impersonations of the audience, complete silence and a whole host of other nonsense. I ended up dressed as a sailor while Adam monologued about the nature of comedy as a faux Jason Manford. We labelled one man The Reviewer and chastised him for his inability to understand comedy and recognise that he wasn’t even reviewing the right act. Joe Davies, Ben Target and Matt Highton joined in towards the end dressed as a builder, a cowboy and a sex god and we did a karaoke singalong of YMCA.

“I hope you will be at the next Not The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society gig, possibly next weekend at Heroes @ Hansom Hall.”

Bob Slayer. Fool? Or shrewd publicist? The jury is out. But possibly not for long.

Juliette Burton + camels. We’re definitely not in Kansas, Toto.

Juliette Burton + camels. We’re definitely not in Kansas, Toto.

After reading Bob Slayer’s e-mail, I opened the next one in my Inbox. It was from Juliette Burton, en route to Australia to tour her show When I Grow Up. Attached was a photograph of Juliette apparently doing an impression of the Hunchback of Notre Dame with camels behind her. There was no explanation. I think she is in Dubai. She might be on Tatooine. She is definitely not in Kansas any more, Toto.

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