Tag Archives: music

The very interesting Thom Tuck sings The Mountain Goats and I’m convinced.

On Friday this week, there is a show at the Vault Festival in London titled THOM TUCK SINGS THE MOUNTAIN GOATS.

The billing for the show reads:

“A barely known comedian (“increasingly melancholy” The Guardian) sings the songs of a band you probably don’t listen to. A phenomenally stupid idea. Total sellout Edinburgh Fringe 2017.”

Thom Tuck is a very interesting man so, obviously I had to ask him several questions. As is my wont, I tended to meander a bit. Well, OK, a lot.


JOHN: So why are you doing this show?

THOM: I fell into a hole by getting into The Mountain Goats – the best band you’ve never listened to. They are so good.

JOHN: Do they sing jolly, feel good songs?

THOM: They’ve got two styles of songs: sad and very sad. Well, three types: sad, weird and angry. New Chevrolet in Flames is about a couple who take a car for a test drive, park it behind a school and set it alight.

JOHN: So the attraction of The Mountain Goats is…?

THOM: John Darnielle is just a brilliant storyteller. The first few albums are just him with a guitar and a Panasonic boombox and they’re all first or second takes. Phenomenal stories. And then, when he decided to write about his own life it got even better. There was a concept album about loads of druggies living together in a house… then an album about his abusive stepfather.

They released a single last week. It is sort-of about a dragon.

The last record was about Goths getting old and it includes a song about The Sisters of Mercy and their lead singer – It’s called Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds.

JOHN: And you yourself were born in…

THOM: Leeds.

JOHN: And you feel Yorkshire…

THOM: Yes. There’s a Bill Bryson quote: You never feel so much a part of your own culture as when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t.

JOHN: You were brought up in…

THOM: Egypt, Sri Lanka, Denmark, Malawi, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

JOHN: How did Denmark get in there?

THOM: My (English) dad worked for Danish firms – Krüger, an engineering firm, and DANIDA, the Danish international development agency.

“Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’”

JOHN: Did being brought up in all those countries screw-up your brain about who you are and where you’re from?

THOM: Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’… That was just the way it was. I wasn’t anywhere longer than 18 months before Bangladesh. I was in Bangladesh for six years – aged 10-16.

JOHN: The formative years.

THOM: Yes. I made friends pretty quickly, because I had to. I’m quite good at that first bit,

JOHN: Do The Mountain Goats know you are doing this show?

THOM: Well, I did it before, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, for Mark Watson’s Festival of Bad Ideas and John Darnielle knew about that one.

JOHN: Are you taking it back up to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

THOM: Probably. I did it sort-of unofficially last year – about 17 shows. I just put on Instagram: I’M GOING TO DO IT NOW! and went to Bob’s Blundabus and started playing in the shed.

JOHN: And you have formed a band to do this show.

THOM: Yes. The Hospital Bombers – named after a line in the Mountain Goats’ song The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton:

The best ever death metal band out of Denton
Never settled on a name
But the top three contenders after weeks of debate
Were Satan’s Fingers and The Killers and The Hospital Bombers 

And all the band except one are obsessives about The Mountain Goats as well.

Thom and The Hospital Bombers’ possible set list for the show

JOHN: So this could be the start of a new career for you: singing.

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: But you’re a serious actor, really.

THOM: Well, the last big job I did was in the play Brexit.

JOHN: And you did Death of a Salesman.

THOM: Yes, two years ago. That was a torrid time. The lead actor died in tech rehearsal (three days before the play was due to open). Tim Pigott-Smith. So the first three weeks were cancelled.

JOHN: Had you wanted to be an actor originally?

THOM: I think so. But I always got cast as the comedy part in plays at school.

JOHN: I always think you went to university at Oxbridge, but you didn’t.

THOM: No. I went to Edinburgh University.

JOHN: Why?

THOM: Because, when I was 17, I went to the Edinburgh Festival and thought: Oh! I’ll come to university here, please!

JOHN: You studied…

THOM: Philosophy. I’m very glad I did it: I think I’m a better thinker because of it.

JOHN: But that’s no help in comedy, is it?

“Philosophical about things over which you have no control”

THOM: Well, just in life. Being able to remain philosophical about things over which you have no control and seeing logical flaws in things and fallacies in arguments.

JOHN: Seeing through bullshit.

THOM: Yes. I started doing Philosophy and Economics and that’s a bad pairing because, if you do them together, you realise Economics is false. It’s based on myriad assumptions and, time after time, these assumptions are not held up. Economists think they’re scientists and they’re fucking not.

JOHN: What are they?

THOM: They’re social scientists. They consider themselves on a par with mathematicians and they’re just not.

JOHN: You are very literate. You should be writing novels.

THOM: I’ve started a couple, but I’m not good enough yet. Jess Fortescue and I are trying to write a TV sitcom at the moment.

JOHN: So you’re busy. The Penny Dreadfuls have been commissioned to do another BBC Radio show and you run the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society live shows. 

THOM: Yes, it has been going about 7 or 8 years now. We have one next week – Tuesday 12th February – at The Albany in Central London.

One of Thom’s individually hand-drawn flyers for the show

JOHN: Your publicity for Thom Tuck Sings The Mountain Goats says you can’t sing.

THOM: I’m not a singer. That’s what I said.

JOHN: What’s the difference?

THOM: I have a nice voice, but I’m not very good at hitting the notes.

JOHN: So you sing all the right notes, but…

THOM: …not necessarily in the right order. Yes. If I was to sing in a cappella without any backing, it would sound great but, unfortunately, this is with a band.

JOHN: The Hospital Bombers.

THOM: Yes.

JOHN: And, when you did it in Edinburgh in 2017, it sold out.

THOM: Yes. When we did it for Mark Watson’s shows, it sold out because it was Mark Watson.

JOHN: It still sounds good to me. Do you see the show going further?

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: Any more singing ahead?

THOM: Long-term, I want to do a particular musical, but I don’t know how good I am. It’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the story of an East German transsexual rock singer. The film is exceptional and the stage version is just a rock concert with a monologue in-between.

JOHN: More singing for you, though… I’m convinced.

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Mr Twonkey tries to plug his show but gets sidetracked by cheese and fast food

I had a very fuzzy talk with Mr Twonkey

I had a video chat with comedy performer Mr Twonkey (Paul Vickers) on FaceTime but I could only see him as a frozen, fuzzy presence.


PAUL: That’s just the way I look.

JOHN: Where are you? Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, on the shore at Leith in my windmill.

JOHN: Your windmill in Edinburgh.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: You wanted to talk to me to wantonly plug your show at the Bill Murray comedy club in Islington next Thursday (7th February).

PAUL: And I’m at the Leicester Comedy Festival the weekend after that – Saturday 9th.

JOHN: The same show?

PAUL: Yes. Well, the same show with a different title.

JOHN: The last time I talked to you, there seemed to be a planned, linear progression to your shows. I was quite shocked.

PAUL: Well, to me there’s a plan, but people just think they’re… well, just… well… mental… But to me there’s a plan.

JOHN: So what’s this new show about?

PAUL: A conspiracy theory. The idea that all the weather we currently experience is generated in one small factory in the Dordogne in France. And the ‘front’ for it is a cake decorating shop. Behind the scenes, they are making weather, but it is mal-functioning. So I go to investigate. That’s the central crux… There are connections with Leonardo da Vinci.

JOHN: Which are?

PAUL: Apparently he had plans to re-invent the weather.

JOHN: Title of the show?

Mr Twonkey’s new show is coming to Islington

PAUL: My original title was Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change but, when I told my PR, the phone went silent. Now it’s called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. She didn’t like Whizz, Weathercock, Whizz! either. Next Thursday will be the first time I’ve performed it. The other night, we wrote a new song for it because we were watching Neil Diamond videos and became inspired. So now there’s a new bit in the show about a temporary exhibition of Neil Diamond stage costumes at Luton Airport.

JOHN: Separate from this show, you have a new music album coming out…

PAUL: Yes. There’s a new Paul Vickers and The Leg album called Jump! There have been some problems on that with label changes, but I think what is going to happen is… Well, I don’t know what is going to happen at all. The main thing we’re focussed on is getting it finished. We’re mixing it at the moment. It takes a long time to finish a record because, when you get five grumpy men in a room, it takes a while.

JOHN: Are you going to tour with the band?

PAUL: Hopefully. But it’s a case of time and money. There’s a lot of things I would like to do. My play about David Lynch is ready, but it’s too expensive for me to do at the moment.

JOHN: Why expensive?

PAUL: I need actors and actors cost money. The last time I did a play – Jennifer’s Robot Arm – it cost me a fortune. The trouble with plays is the cost escalates. It’s like digging a hole and just throwing loads of money into it. Whereas, with a Twonkey show, there’s a limit to how much the cost can escalate because it’s basically just me and what I buy in junk shops.

JOHN: How is your good lady? Is she still making props for you?

“Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver. Sounds strange”

PAUL: Yes. And buying me things. The other day, she bought me a xylophone that plays by itself, but I think it’s broken. It sounds wrong and wobbles a lot.

JOHN: But, then, so do I… Is it having creative differences with itself?

PAUL: It appears so. It’s quite rusty as well. Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver but it sounds very strange now.

JOHN: It plays itself?

PAUL: Because it’s from the early 1970s, the way you program it is with a coil. It’s kinda like an auto-piano that you would get in a Wild West saloon. It’s very old and broken.

JOHN: But, then, so am I and, if you tweaked me with a screwdriver…. What else have you been doing?

PAUL: I made a little video in the western town in Morningside

JOHN: Western town? Morningside??? The very posh part of Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes. Behind the library, there’s a street that’s like the Wild West.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: It was built for some advertising thing. There’s a saloon and a canteen. It’s like a proper little Wild West street. It used to be a dance hall; now it’s a street.

JOHN: What is the video about?

Mr Twonkey inside his windmill, holding quite a large cheese

PAUL: Cheese. How America lacks high quality cheese… American cheese is kinda plastic cheese. Was there ever a point where they tried to introduce European or exotic cheeses into America? I had the idea there was a time in the Wild West where cheese was more valuable than gold. So I’m trying to smuggle cheese and I steal the sheriff’s cheese and he tries to win it back. It’s very simple.

JOHN: What triggered you into thinking about the low quality of cheese in the USA?

PAUL: I just couldn’t think of any high-quality American cheese. In this country, every different region has its own cheese. And I thought: That surely must be the case in America; they must be making some kind of local cheese… but they’re not. Why not? But they love cheese. 

JOHN: Their showbiz can be quite cheesy. There’s Brie Larson.

PAUL: But does she generate genuine cheese?

JOHN: I don’t know her that well.

PAUL: There is no great American cheese. It is such poor quality that it can’t officially be classed as cheese.

JOHN: Who says?

Mr Twonkey – a man, a myth, a large sombrero

PAUL: The cheesemongers of the world. The Cheese Police. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: Is there some official supervisory cheese body?

PAUL: There must be. You can’t get away with just knocking out anything and calling it cheese. There must be someone who says: “Hang on a minute… That’s not proper cheese!”

JOHN: Is all this because American cows are below par?

PAUL: The thing about America is it’s massive. They’ve got snake farms. There are places out in the woods where they’re making things in a DIY homemade manner. You would think somewhere out there someone would be making high quality cheese…

You would think maybe someone with French ancestry would be thinking: I want to make a really smelly, runny cheese. But I don’t think there’s anyone in America doing that. I have Googled extensively online and the best I could come up with was Vermont Cheddar which, if you put it on a plate in France, they would say: “Well, that is… average.”

I have never been to Vermont. All I know is the Captain Beefheart song Moonlight on Vermont.

JOHN: Does Moonlight on Vermont include any reference to cheese?

PAUL: I don’t think he mentions cheese.

JOHN: I seem to remember cheese being a motif in previous shows of yours.

PAUL: It is. It’s one of the things I focus on. Certain things keep coming back: cheese, World War Two, escapology, engineering and witchcraft. But you Google American cheese. You’d be amazed.

JOHN: I don’t doubt it.

PAUL: The country that invented the cheeseburger doesn’t have decent cheese.

JOHN: Did they invent the cheeseburger?

PAUL: Well, they invented fast food. Have you seen that film The Founder?

JOHN: About Colonel Sanders?

PAUL: No, about the guy who started McDonald’s. Except he didn’t start McDonald’s. He went into business with the McDonald brothers and their original intention was high-quality fast food.

Michael Keaton’s movie as The Founder

The way they did it was they didn’t open a restaurant first; they booked a tennis court, got a piece of chalk and divided the tennis court into different areas for preparing different types of food, then employed staff who came to the tennis court and they mapped-out a kitchen and they were directing people round this tennis court to see who could make the quickest high-quality cheeseburger. Then they built a restaurant to the exact specifications of the tennis court.

JOHN: Didn’t the net get in the way?”

PAUL: I think they maybe took down the net. We have gone off-track…

JOHN: I feel there is a rock opera to be written about cheese and you are the man to do it.

PAUL: The Americans invented jazz and fast food… And that’s it… We are going off-track.

JOHN: So you are performing at the Bill Murray in London on Thursday.

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

Twonkey… Another gig. The same show. Another title… A fez

JOHN: And then at the Leicester Comedy Festival on Saturday 9th February..

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change.

JOHN: Which is the same show, but with a different title.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: And, at the Edinburgh Fringe, it will be called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: That seems reasonable.

… Mr TWONKEY’s MORNINGSIDE VIDEO IS ON YOUTUBE …

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In New Orleans, a 76-year-old mixture of James Brown, Ray Charles and Elvis

Samantha, in this shot, clearly not in New Orleans…

My chum from Lancashire, Samantha Hulme, is currently in New Orleans.

She has been staying with a friend who lives there.

She met him on a previous visit.

She sent me a video of him singing in his living room.

In a second message to me, she wrote:


I love it here.

I love to travel

When I found New Orleans and knew I wanted to make a life here.

Whenever I travel I don’t want to be a stereotypical tourist. I want to be safe, but I want to see the real country, the culture, the real people. I was lucky enough to get the offer of accommodation from Mr James Winfield – stage name The Sleeping Giant.

It was an act of kindness stereotypical of this city. In his own words, he never wants another woman again. He was just genuinely trying to help me.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to learn so much about music with a man who was recording records in the 1960s before I was even born. I have had the true New Orleans experience.

I couldn’t have done it better. I have laughed so much I cried with laughter on various occasions – the man’s absolute bluntness, his wry sense of humour, alongside his total inability to understand what I am saying in my northern accent most of the time, will be an experience which will keep me laughing for the next year.

It was like s mixture of living with James Brown, Ray Charles and Elvis – His voice has characteristics off all of them at times.

I am a physical & movement therapist and I can’t believe the stark difference in how we age in the UK compared to here.

James is 76 yrs old.

He works full-time as a panel beater and sprays cars. He sings a few nights a week and he goes out there blazing in all his stereotypical New Orleans fancy suits, bright shoes and I have never known a man with so many hats. He appears to have boundless energy.

I know no-one in the UK like this even a decade younger than him. 

Then I look at quite a few of the great musicians and singers here in New Orleans living into their 90s and I can see why.

I love New Orleans.

The video clip I sent you before of James singing in his house was a wonderful spontaneous moment of seeing my new friend jamming with his grandson and what I really saw was his huge love of music that afternoon. When the man talks he sounds like his singing.

But I don’t think it fair to show him only singing to a piece of bread in the afternoon.

So here is a video of him singing at a club as well.

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Comedy singer Ariane Sherine – from Duran Duran to Humanist ‘reservations’

Ariane Sherine and I first had a blog chat in October 2014, when she released her music album Beautiful Filth.

This Saturday, she is headlining the annual (free) One Life Humanist Choir concert at what she calls “the fabulous heathen palace” of Conway Hall – more correctly the Ethical Society’s London HQ.


JOHN: Are you in the choir?

ARIANE: No. The choir are amazing and brilliant. They’re going to be playing seven songs including two of my favourites: Days by The Kinks and Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). When I was originally approached, though, it was also suggested they might supply a choral backing for my songs and I was so excited. I was thinking about writing out sheet music for the first time in decades and what sort of arrangements I would score, but then the choir heard some of my songs and I was told they had ‘reservations’.

JOHN: Why? Are you singing about God?

ARIANE: No. Singing about sex. The choir ‘had reservations’, so I sent them one of my cleaner songs and they said: “Wow! If that is the more subtle one then the extreme ones could be interesting!” They said they had too full a schedule to do the backing, but I think they were being polite and were actually put off by my filth.

JOHN: What was the clean song you sent them?

ARIANE: Would You Still Love Me

Would you still love me
If I took you to the cleaners?
Would you still love me
If my nose turned into a penis?
Would you still love me
If I never said thank you or please
And I always did asparagus wees
And my flange smelled like blue cheese?

JOHN: What did they find objectionable?

ARIANE: I don’t know. I’m totally baffled.

JOHN: You are also bringing out a book in October. I presume that is going to be full of filth too?

ARIANE: No, it’s not. It’s called Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide To Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help. It’s a beginner’s guide to therapy and types of therapy. I’ve written guides to the different types of therapy which are short and funny like myself. And there are contributions from people who have had therapy – including Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, David Baddiel, James Brown…

JOHN: James Brown the singer?

ARIANE: No, John. He’s dead. That would be difficult, especially as I don’t believe in an afterlife. James Brown, the former editor of GQ who also launched Loaded magazine. 

JOHN: What are Humanists anyway? They’re just atheists.

ARIANE: They are atheists with ethics. Atheists who are good without God.

JOHN: Surely it’s just a way of making atheism into a religion, isn’t it? Which is a bad idea, because almost all religions are OK. It’s organised religion that turns things bad. And Humanism is just organised atheism.

ARIANE: No. We have no places of worship; not even community centres. We don’t stop anybody from doing anything.

JOHN: Except joining in with rude songs.

ARIANE: (LAUGHS) That might be a drawback.

JOHN: You keep saying “we”. You created and organised the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008. But are you a Humanist?

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

ARIANE: I am. I’m a patron of Humanists UK. 

JOHN: Shouldn’t you be a matron not a patron?

ARIANE: That sounds a bit frumpy. I’d rather be the sex goddess of Humanists UK.

JOHN: That would involve flanges, though… So what are you going to sing on Saturday if you can’t sing dirty songs?

ARIANE: I can sing my dirty songs. The choir just won’t be doing the backing.

JOHN: What would they have been doing if they had done it? Ooh-aaah Ooh-aaah ooh-aaahs?

ARIANE: I might have had them sing “vaginosis”. I have always dreamt about one bit in Will You Still Love Me?

Would you still love me
If I had pungent halitosis?
Halitosis
Would you still love me
If I had bacterial vaginosis?
Vaginosis

I would have loved to have had that Vaginosis, John. 

JOHN: You’re not just a singer of dirty songs, though. You have a bit of previous. With Duran Duran.

ARIANE: Yes. I left school at 16. I was asked to leave.

This girl was bullying me and she spat in my lunch and I threw a full coke can in her face and gave her a black eye. Her step-sister’s gang were waiting outside the school to beat me up or worse and the deputy head had to escort me past the gang and it was made clear to me this couldn’t happen again and that I should leave school.

I remember the deputy head saying to me: “You’ve got to work out what you are going to do with your life now,” and I said, “I know what I’m going to do. I am going to go and find Duran Duran.”

A young Ariane Sherine with Simon Le Bon

So I found out where they were recording, went down to the studio, met them and started hanging out with them and that’s what I did for the next three years.

JOHN: As a groupie…?

ARIANE: No, no. As a songwriter. I wanted to write songs. I told them that and they would listen to my songs and give me advice and feedback.

JOHN: But you never actually played with them…

ARIANE: I did do some sessions for one of their records, playing piano and singing – Ken Scott was the producer. But my contributions didn’t appear on the album and they meant to thank me in the liner notes but forgot. And then I didn’t see them for eight years. Then Simon Le Bon saw me interviewed on television when I was promoting the Atheist Bus Campaign and he sent me a letter via the Guardian.

JOHN: Because you were writing columns for the Guardian at the time.

ARIANE: Yes. So we kind of rekindled our friendship then.

JOHN: Any chance of Duran Duran doing a cover of your Hitler Moustache song ?

ARIANE: No, John, it wouldn’t work.

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Uncategorisable act Worbey & Farrell won’t be playing the Edinburgh Fringe

The act formerly known as Katzenjammer at the Fringe

Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell met while studying at the Royal College of Music. They formed their Katzenjammer act in 2003. Their ‘hook’ was that they play the same piano simultaneously – a ‘four hands, one piano’ musical act.

Their current selling blurb is: “They’ll astound you by pushing the boundaries of their instrument, using it in unconventional ways to mimic the sound of a full symphony orchestra!”

But they are no longer called Katzenjammer – they haven’t been for ages. Since 2008, they have been simply Worbey & Farrell.

“Why the name change?” I asked.

“With Katzenjammer,” Steven Worbey told me, “there was a Norwegian girl band who came out and started to do very, very well and started going international. Although we had the name Katzenjammer in the UK and Europe, they had the rights in America. So we thought: We might as well change now, while we’re about it.”

“And then,” said Kevin Farrell, “when we put up on Facebook Has anybody got any suggestions for a new name? quite a lot were inappropriate.”

“Well, yes,” said Steven.

“Such as?” I asked.

“Well,” said Kevin, “the one that kept on coming up was Two C***s on a Stool…”

“More than once!” laughed Steven.

“…from people” Kevin laughed, “that didn’t know each other!”

“Well,” I said, “a stool does have an unfortunate other meaning.”

“Much as we loved that name,” Kevin explained, “we couldn’t really use it because we were about to do a concert with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra and we did not think Carnival of the Animals with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra and Two C***s on a Stool would have sold the concept well to the schools audience.”

Steven Worbey (left) and Kevin Farrell are breaking through

“So Worbey & Farrell you became,” I said. “Claire Smith of The Scotsman – who once lived in a tent in your back garden throughout the Edinburgh Fringe – told me you don’t want to play the Fringe next year but, instead, you are going to play the Usher Hall in Edinburgh next Thursday (30th November, St Andrew’s Day). Why?”

“The thing is,” Kevin explained, “we have had a fantastic time doing the Festival but the struggle for us is that the bookers for what we do don’t really go up to the Fringe. It’s more theatre and comedy orientated. We have had a problem in the past being reviewed as a comedy act and we’re not. We are a sort of classical music act that is unpretentious and we make it quite fun. We are quite happy to put Lady Gaga next to Rachmaninov or whatever. And we don’t fit into one single category.”

“Would you not be better,” I suggested, “listed in the Cabaret section of the Fringe Programme?”

“Even that is wrong,” said Kevin.

“Yes,” agreed Steven. “It’s not quite right, because there’s a lot of classical music and, y’know. We are in-between.”

“You are hyphenates,” I suggested.

“We are,” agreed Steven.

“The problem is,” said Kevin, “that, if we went into the Cabaret section, we would only get cabaret bookers and, although we have done cabaret venues in London, generally their pianos are not up to it, because our arrangements are huge and they’re getting bigger. It does require a big Steinway Grand to get the full…”

“At least” said Steven, “the Usher Hall comes with three Steinway Grands for us to choose from, so we haven’t got to spend thousands of pounds hiring one.”

“Most of our audience at the Fringe,” said Kevin, “are locals anyway. Ironically, we will make more profit doing one night than we did doing 23 nights at the Fringe.”

“And it gets you more prestige?” I asked.

The interior of the Usher Hall in Edinburgh: always impressive

“Well,” said Kevin, “it has helped us book the Cadogan Hall in London next year and we’ve also booked the Brighton Dome with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Usher Hall again for next year. There is a kind of snob value to it. More people are likely to come and see you in a big venue, even if they don’t know who you are, as long as you get the title right. Ours is just  Rhapsody in Blue.”

“There is,” admitted Steven, “a bit of a risk to it as well, of course, filling a hall like that. But we are doing OK.”

“We are doing very well,” said Kevin. “And, as we are doing the Usher Hall, the powers that be in the classical world are sitting up and taking note of us now. We have been around for ages, but now they realise we are not going to go away.”

“You have played in over 150 countries,” I prompted, “including Papua New Guinea.”

“It took us 40 hours to get there,” said Kevin, “and the last flight was nearly cancelled because the volcano was erupting, but we flew through the ash and got there in the end.”

“Not the Icelandic volcano?” I asked.

“No,” said Steven. “There was one in Papua New Guinea that was erupting.”

More than music was on the menu in Papua New Guinea

“What was disturbing,” continued Kevin, “was that they had only recently ruled out cannibalism. They eat berries from the trees. It sends them high, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” agreed Steven. “They’re all high. They’ve all got red teeth.”

“I didn’t like the way they looked at us,” laughed Kevin.

“No,” agreed Steven. “It was a funny old place. Just a few years previously, they had lowered old ladies into the volcano because they were…”

“…witches,” said Kevin.

“Yes,” said Steven. “It is a very odd place.”

“Did you,” I asked, “play Papua New Guinea because you were playing Australia?”

“No,” Steven replied. “We left from here in the UK and the following gig after that was…”

“…Berwick-upon-Tweed,” said Kevin.

“So the reason,” I asked, “for playing Papua New Guinea was just because it existed?”

Steven and Kevin have flown hither & thither to entertain

“Yes,” said Steven.”

“That week,” said Kevin, “we played Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Newark Palace Theatre, Papua New Guinea, Berwick-upon-Tweed.”

“That’s right,” said Steven. “Lots of Germans there.”

“No, that was Namibia,” said Kevin.

“There were Germans in Namibia as well,” said Steven.

“I can’t remember,” said Kevin.

“It’s all sand dunes,” said Steven.

“We have,” said Kevin, “played in some strange places.”

“Yeah,” said Steven.

“Different cultures,” I said.

“You can,” Kevin said, “be walking around in South Korea, especially on a Friday night, and men in suits will suddenly fall over flat on the ground, because they’re pissed out of their brains. And you just leave them there, because it is disrespectful if you point out they are pissed or try to help them. You just see all these drunken men in suits lying along the streets.”

“It is basically,” said Steven, “like Wakefield.”

“They drink this very strange red liqueur,” said Kevin.

“In Wakefield?” I asked.

“Oh my God; the Koreans are so lovely!”

“South Korea,” said Kevin. “We were in a bar there last time and were saying: Oh my God; the Koreans are so lovely! They don’t seem to have any violence! And then there was this bottle being hurled across the bar by this girl at another girl who had disrespected her and she wanted to kill her. They were holding her back and we thought: Shit! We spoke too soon!

“Sounds like Glasgow on a quiet night,” I said. “The Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Thursday will be different.”

“Audiences are different all over the UK,” said Steven. “The brightest audiences we have found – the ones you can’t fool – are from Yorkshire.”

“Except maybe Wakefield,” I suggested.

“The further south you go in England,” said Kevin, “the more politically correct. You have to be careful. It’s very strange. What goes down well or not.”

“So Geordie-land is different from Kent?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” said Steven. “Completely.”

“Yes,” agreed Kevin.

“We could get in trouble here,” I said, “but is the North of England more Old School?”

“That is a way of putting it,” said Steven. “You get away with a little bit more in the North of England.”

“But in Scotland,” said Kevin, “the further you go up, the more religious they become.”

“And the further West,” I said.

In Scotland, ya cannae please all of the Papal all of the time

“When we were Katzenjammer,” Kevin told me, “we used to sing a song about the Pope…”

“Oh dear,” I said.

“…and,” Kevin continued, “Oh my God! We practically had death threats. But now, since 2011, Geoffrey Durham directs us and, when he came in, he just stripped the whole act down. We were a variety act and he took out all the songs. He wanted us to do more classical music and he makes sure that everything we do is at the same level.”

“He’s a genius, really,” said Steven. “We don’t try anything unless we run it past Geoffrey first.”

“This is Geoffrey Durham as in Victoria Wood’s ex-husband?” I checked.

“Yes,” said Kevin.

“Someone compared your act to Victor Borge,” I said.

“Everyone wants to pigeonhole,” said Steven. “We’re not. Victor Borge did very little music. They’ve also said we are a bit like a suited-and-booted Hinge & Bracket. But they didn’t play long classical pieces or anything like that, so… Everyone wants to pigeonhole you.”

“You are not going back to Papua New Guinea?” I asked.

“I doubt it,” said Kevin.

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Corduroy LPs, a gay film & the luvvie… Who? – We dare not speak his name…

The energetic and saintly David McGillivray.

Cough, cough. I have a cough. I am now on antibiotics.

But, earlier in the week, I went to yet another launch by film producer, critic and cult movie aficionado David McGillivray.

Last week, he was launching a twice-the-original-length re-publication of his book Doing Rude Things – The History of the British Sex Film.

I blogged about it.

This week, he was back in the same upstairs rooms of a North Soho/Fitzrovia pub in London, launching the soundtrack of his controversial gay porn film Trouser Bar –  “It’s the sexy package you’ll want to fondle. A green vinyl LP lovingly wrapped in haute couture corduroy complete with lavishly illustrated insert, Paisley hankie, badge and (director) Peter de Rome‘s visiting card.”

I blogged about the film in October 2015, when it was being touted as hard-core, and in March 2016 when it was not – just well-promoted – and was first screened.

Among those appearing in cameos in Trouser Bar are Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers.

This week, as last week, David McGillivray gave a speech to the assembled, definitively eclectic, audience. He said:


Composer Stephen Thrower (left) with David McGillivray and the corduroyed soundtrack LPs. (Photograph by Alex Main)

My only purpose in being here is to lament the fact that two people who should be here can’t be here.

One is the alleged writer of the screenplay.

(LOUD LAUGHTER FROM THE AUDIENCE) 

I appreciate that response. Obviously, there’s probably nobody in this room who doesn’t know who I am referring to, but I still can’t say his name. Isn’t that marvellous?

The other person is the man for whom the alleged writer wrote the screenplay – the great erotic pioneer Peter de Rome.

How both these men would have loved both Trouser Bar and Stephen Thrower’s musical score!

Over the past year, it has been my enormous pleasure to tell the story of this collaboration throughout the world. Next week, I will be telling the story yet again in Buenos Aires – How exciting is that?

The story starts a long time ago, in 1976, when the alleged writer of the screenplay was appearing in a play on Broadway in New York. The alleged writer was a huge fan of pornography and he wrote in a letter to his friend that, while on tour with the play, he had seen in Washington the film in which Linda Lovelace was fucked by a dog. Those are his actual words.

Now, he did not say whether he liked that film but he did say, in a letter which I’ve seen, how much he admired the work of Peter De Rome.

And that is why, one day in his hotel in New York, the alleged writer wrote the screenplay of Trouser Bar. And that is his title, as well.

(Left-Right) David McGillivray, Ethan Reid and Peter de Rome

I worked on three films with Peter De Rome.

During the production of the first, he presented me with this screenplay which had been written for him in 1976. It was still in the envelope from the hotel.

Astounded is not a strong-enough word as far as I am concerned.

For the rest of Peter’s life, I tried to get him out of retirement to make this film. But, alas, he was absolutely adamant. He was fed-up with filming. He found it tiresome.

I failed.

So, when Peter died in 2014, there was nothing else for it – I had to make it for him.

I honestly assumed that, when I contacted the John Gielgud Charitable Trust – and, due to the vagaries of English law, I CAN refer to that organisation – I honestly thought they would be delighted that we were making a film based on the only known screenplay written by the alleged writer.

David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location.

How wrong I was!

They were furious and litigation proceeded over a period of three years.

When they found out that we were due to start production – now, this is something I have never ever told the people involved in the production of the film until tonight – they threatened to sue me AND everybody involved.

Well, it was like a red rag to a bull. 

We went into production the following week.

I assumed that the film would never be released and I was quite happy to leave it on a shelf until every member of the Trust was dead. But the reason we are here tonight is because of two very important people, one of whom IS here.

Brian Robinson of the BFI during the shoot.

He is Brian Robinson of the British Film Institute who suggested that we could release the film without a screenplay credit.

The other person is my indefatigable solicitor, who isn’t here.

That is the reason the film premiered at the BFI, Southbank.

After the premiere, more than one person came to me and said: You must release the music on an LP, preferably corduroy-clad.

I said: It’s not going to happen, because how can it?

Well, I reckoned without the composer Stephen Thrower.

Because of his skill and determination, here is the record.


You can currently hear samples from the soundtrack online.

David McGillivray is, as ever, energetically promoting it…

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“Parrotopia” – one step beyond British Music Hall, The Goons and The Bonzos

Michael Livesley (left) and Rodney Slater, Lords of Parrotopia

“Why should I talk to you?” I asked Rodney Slater, formerly of the Bonzo Dog Do0-Dah Band and Michael Livesley who, in the last few years, has revived Vivian Stanshall’s 1978 epic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.

“Because,” said Michael, “of our wonderful new collaborative CD effort Parrotopia.”

“You  sound like,” I told him, “a Northerner trying to be posh by using long words – collaborative, indeed!”

“But it IS collaborative!” he insisted. “The crazy thing about this CD is that, without any kind of planning, it has 12 tracks, six of which are mine and six of which are his. We then cross-pollinated it, of course.”

“You’re using big words again,” I told him. “So the music is random?”

“Yes, it’s very random,” Michael said. “I suppose, if it has a genre, it might be front step.”

“That is a pun beyond my ken,” I told him.

“The young folks,” Michael told me, “have something called ‘dubstep’. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe that was ten years ago or more.”

“A couple of days ago,” said Rodney, “I got a magazine from PRS and I didn’t know what they were talking about in it.”

The Bonzos’ 50th Anniversary show at KOKO in Camden, 2015

“It’s been a helluva lot of fun,” said Michael. “A gestatory nine months.”

“You’re at it again with the words,” I said. “But why another CD? Artistic inspiration or the lure of more filthy lucre?”

Michael laughed.

Rodney laughed: “Gross money is pouring out of our pockets! Why did we do this?”

“Because,” Michael told him, “we couldn’t not. Let’s be honest, we’re never going to become rich doing this. As it is, we’re selling teeshirts as well as the CDs to get money back. We do the music and the songs because we have to do it. Essentially what happened was we started talking during the Bonzo’s Austerity Tour last year, as things got increasingly more fraught…”

“In what way ‘fraught’?” I asked.

“It was nice amongst us,” said Michael. “Lovely among the players… Let’s not talk about it.”

“So the new CD… Parrotopia.” I said.

“The initial spurt,” explained Michael, “was that Rodney bought an iPhone and, all-of-a-sudden, you could email him. And there was no holding him after that. Pretty soon, we were sending each other stupid things about long-dead Northern comics and long-dead, obese footballers. Just tittle-tattle in general.”

Susie Honeyman of The Mekons, Rodney Slater and Michael Livesley during Parrotopia shed recordings.

“It’s just a collection of stories, really,” said Rodney. “Stories we wanted to tell that happened between 2016 and when we finished it in June this year. Our reaction to what was happening in the world and what was particularly happening to us in that context.”

“Not,” I checked, “what was happening politically in the grand scheme of things, but…”

“There was a sprinkling of that,” said Michael.

“You can’t get away from that,” added Rodney, “because that’s the time we were doing it.”

“Well, Parrotopia was almost like a coping mechanism, wasn’t it?” Michael suggested.

“It’s all about stories,” said Rodney. “Stories we tell ourselves. All of us. Fantasies we enact in our own heads when we go to bed at night. Michael said to me: We’ll make the album that we want to listen to. And that’s what has come out.”

“Why is it called Parrotopia?” I asked.

Mr Slater’s Parrot,” said Rodney.

It is a 1969 song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

“What we said we were originally gonna do,” Michael explained, “was to declare ourselves The People’s Republic of Parrotopia, because there was stuff going on – and that name stuck.”

“Cultural Revolutionary,” Rodney said, apparently thinking out loud.

“There is,” Michael continued, “a song, one line of which is: Reflecting feudalist tags. That’s the general disjecta membra that is left over.”

“Oooh!” I said.

“Did you make that up?” asked Rodney.

“No,” Michael told him. “It’s a real word. In many ways, we were sort of living this madness through a shared past. A strange shared past, because Rodney is older than I am, but I was brought up by my nan – my grandmother – and she was brought up around the same time as Rodney’s parents. So we maybe both have a similar outlook. We see what we’ve done as very much as a continuation of British music hall and The Goons and The Bonzos.”

“Are you going to do a musical tour of Parrotopia?” I asked.

“Costs money,” said Rodney. “It would need a cast of 10 or 12. We would need some man with a lot of money who was honest, which is a very rare thing in this business.”

“Any videos?” I asked.

William ‘Fatty’ Foulke, Sheffield United goalkeeper 1894-1905

“Well,” said Michael, “we talked to John HalseyThe Rutles’ Barry Wom – who plays drums on our CD – and we discussed making some films – particularly a little silent movie of a track called Fatty – who was a goalkeeper for Sheffield United in 1902. Rodney as the referee with a twirling moustache and a top hat.”

“I think,” I told him, “you should write a song called Rodney Bought An iPhone.”

Rodney responded: “Writing used to be a slow and laborious process by hand. Now, if we have an idea, rather than me learning it, I hum something, he plays it on the keyboard and there’s the dots.”

“It’s a very quick way of working,” said Michael. “I can come up with a melody, I play it on the keyboard into the iMac computer and literally just press a button and the music dots are there for him to play. The computer is the real paradox here. Well ‘irony’ is better. Rodney has this disdain for computers and…”

“I don’t want a computer,” Rodney emphasised.

“But you have an iPhone,” I said. “That’s a computer.”

“I know it is,” he replied, “but it’s not a two-way mirror quite as much.”

“Would you care to expatiate on that?” asked Michael.

“It’s too intrusive in one’s life,” said Rodney. “It’s like walking around naked. It’s just my way of thinking about it. It’s like radio. Originally, radio was a wonderful, educational tool. All manner of communication. It’s when the arseholes get hold of it and then the big money comes in. I have utter contempt for the people running these things. Utter contempt because of what they’re doing with it. I’m not very good technically. I manage an iPhone; well, part of it.”

“One of the tracks on the CD,” said Michael, “is One Step Behind where Rodney sings about Who harvests your data? He was telling me about opinions being shaped and formed by…”

“Algorithms,” said Rodney. “I’m very interested in all that. The way it shapes human behaviour. I don’t like the sort of society that these things are making. The parallel worlds that we all live in. I prefer to go down the pub and play darts and crib and have a fight.”

“What attitudes are being formed that are bad?” I asked.

“Isolation,” he replied. “Parallel lives. Self-centred interest. What really pisses me off is that people are totally inconsiderate of the consequences of their actions on other people. They don’t think about that.”

Michael says Rodney’s Parrotopia album is “riddled with it”

“Are you going to do a second Parrotopia album about it?” I asked.

“We are doing another one,” said Michael.

“Parrot-toopia,” said Rodney.

“And when is that out?”

“Maybe next year,” replied Michael, but this one is riddled with it. Virtual reality. Augmented reality.”

“I just think, as I get older,” said Rodney, “it is time to write things down. I’m not a grumpy old man. I don’t write grumpy old man songs. I write reality, looking from now to what I’ve known, which is 76 bloody years. It’s a bloody long time. I was born at the beginning of the Second World War and I saw all that social evolution…”

“You retain a lot of optimism,” said Michael.

“A lot of optimism,” said Rodney, “from a bad beginning.”

“There is a lot of attitude on the CD,” said Michael.

“You have had a haircut since we met last,” I observed to Michael.

“Yes,” he said. “I went to Chris the barber near where I live. It is in the back of a garage. You go through his car sales bit and there’s a shed and you sit there surrounded by Classic Car Weeklys.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Between Andover and Southampton.”

“I think there is a stuffed cat museum in Andover,” I said. “In tableaux.”

“I don’t think so,” said Michael.

“Maybe it’s in Arundel,” I said.

“There’s a pencil museum up in Keswick in the Lake District,” suggested Michael helpfully.

“And a vegetarian shoe shop in Brighton,” I said.

“I know,” said Michael. “I popped in once.”

I looked at him.

“I was starving,” he added.

Parrotopia was successfully financed by crowdfunding, using this video…

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