Tag Archives: performing

iScream – Jo Burke on stage and page

Jo Burke’s poster for The Museum of Comedy

Jo Burke’s poster for The Museum of Comedy

Creative life can be very confusing.

This Saturday, Jo Burke is performing her Edinburgh Fringe show iScream at the Museum of Comedy in London.

And her book iScream is on sale.

“Is the show based on the book?” I asked. “Or is the book based on the show?”

“The show is not based on the book at all.” Jo told me. “It’s just got excerpts, because it’s based on my life in general. The book is just about my dating experiences. When I started writing iScream, it wasn’t called iScream – neither the book nor the show. It kind of all came about by accident.”

“Is there going to be a sequel?” I asked. “To either the book or the show?”

“I was thinking of doing another show solely based on the book, because people seem to like the book bits in the show.”

“You could call it Burke’s Lore,” I suggested, “though no-one remembers the Burke’s Law TV series.”

“Or Burke’s Peerage,” suggested Jo.

“With you peering into something?”

“Mmmm…”

“And a second book?” I asked.

“I bought 100 ISBN barcodes.”

“One down. Just 99 to go,” I said. “So a sequel to the iScream dating book?”

Jo Burke is delighted with her book

Jo Burke: 99 possible books but not a sequel

“Not unless the public demand one!” Jo laughed. “I don’t think so. It was a very personal book. I think I’ve already over-shared in that one, frankly.”

“Over-shared?” I asked.

“There’s quite a lot of personal information in there.”

“So which page is the filth on?” I asked.

“It’s not filth! It’s quite deep and thoughtful and challenging. I think it’s a 21st century Bridget Jones. But she was fiction and posh. And Jo Burke is fact and poor – which is an entirely different point of view that’s hardly ever heard nowadays – a poor working class voice. And it’s not as fluffy as Bridget Jones. It’s got some depth to it that Bridget Jones definitely doesn’t have at all.”

“I saw you being grabbed by someone in the street in Edinburgh,” I said, “wanting you to sign the book. Who was he?”

“No idea. He looked like James Corden, but wasn’t. I had just finished my show and gone for a drink with my accountant and – this is how well my accountant knows me – I offered to buy him a drink and he said: No, no. I should buy you one… You know you’re in trouble when your accountant won’t let you buy a drink.

“I was signing a lot of books after my shows and most people wanted me to put their name in it – To Whoever… but this one guy went: Oh no, don’t personalise it – It’ll be worth more on eBay. I thought he was joking and he really wasn’t.

“My room was packed every day. I don’t know where they came from. On the first Sunday, I was expecting to come out to a room of four people and it was packed, with people standing. It threw me. you don’t expect that in Edinburgh. Not me.”

Jo Burke, mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

Jo Burke & Nathan Cassidy before not meeting James Corden

I reminded her: “When the bloke in the street in Edinburgh wanted you to sign his copy of the book, it was by a DeLorean car that Nathan Cassidy was using to plug his Back To The Future shows. Perhaps the bloke had come back from the future to get your autograph, knowing you are going to be very, very famous in a few years time.”

Jo shrugged. “I just think the image really works.”

The cover of Jo Burke’s successful book (artwork by Steve Ullathorne)

The cover of Jo Burke’s successful book (artwork by Steve Ullathorne)

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Comedy actress writer Jo Burke wants to scream about her life in her new show

Jo Burke iScream designed by Steve Ullathorne

Jo Burke is slightly worried about her new show

Jo Burke is slightly worried about performing her new show. She is performing it at the Brighton Fringe for three nights in May. Then at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“I’m on the Edinburgh train again,” she told me, “but with far fewer suitcases. I started writing the new show in my head from the minute I realised I had taken on too much at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Why too much?” I asked.

“Because I took up not one but two shows that I had written and was producing and was flyering for and was teching… and one of them involved hoofing up with a projector and a projector screen and I had basically made my life as difficult as possible and I was exhausted. I had done Edinburgh four or five times before and that was the worst one I had had – I did not enjoy a single day.

“If you look at the reviews and audiences, I took up two 4-star shows and that side of it was all great but, personally, I was absolutely miserable. I know that’s how you are supposed to feel when you are performing at the Fringe but, up until then, all the other years I’d been up, I’d always really enjoyed it. It was always hard work, but not THAT much hard work.”

“And,” I asked, “your show this year is called…?”

iScream

“With a very good poster,” I said.

“The spec I gave the designer, Steve Ullathorne, was basically the Carrie poster, because I love dark humour and my shows are always dark.”

“Good use of blood,” I said. “And your show is basically about your three-and-a-half weeks of hell at the Fringe in 2014?”

“No,” said Jo. “Not that. I specifically did not want it to be a rant about Edinburgh because, if you’re not a performer it would mean nothing to you. Just the first five minutes are about last year – to put it into context – then the rest of the show is entirely different.”

“And you’re slightly worried about it?”

Jo as her Mary Magdalene character

Jo as her Mary Magdalene character

“Well, I have only ever done character shows – I have never been ‘me’ on stage for an hour – so this is my first ‘personal’ show and, because I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl, I think maybe I have over-shared. It really is warts and all. You get me on a plate, basically. It is not necessarily pretty or clever, but it is definitely me… the kind of shit that’s gone on in my life.”

“You wrote a dating book, didn’t you?” I asked.

From Strangers With Love, yes.”

“Is that in it?”

“No. The normal things are covered that a stand-up does when they talk about themselves. But they are covered in a non-normal way. At the moment, my head is in this world of terrifyingly opening myself up to the public whereas, in the past, I have not been ‘me’ on stage.”

“Actors,” I said , “often claim stand-up comedy is the most difficult thing to do, because you have to be yourself.”

“Yes,” agreed Jo, “I never wanted to do comedy. I just shifted into comedy because the need and wish to perform over-rode the fact that comedy wasn’t really what I wanted to do. However, I seem to be able to do it.”

“You called yourself a writer earlier,” I said, “as if you put being a writer above being a performer.”

“I think I probably am. I think I would never not write, whereas I can see myself not performing. At the moment – though it’s been a bit interrupted by preparing for the iScream previews – I’m towards the end of writing eight monologues that I’d like to put on as a single show – four female monologues and four male monologues. They’re basically different characters at the same rough life stage. The overall title is Broken, which is what it is about.”

When I chatted to Jo, she had come straight from attending a course – Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

The real Jo Burke

The real Jo Burke, after her Neuro-Linguistic Programming

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

“Because,” she told me, “as a writer, I have a natural interest in why we do things and how we are capable of changing those things. Intrinsically, everything you do informs your writing. So there is quite a clear clue as to what’s been going on in the iScream show – I’m not going to say what, because I don’t want to give it away.”

“What’s been going on with what?” I asked.

“With my writing and where I’m at… It just makes you realise patterns that are maybe not helpful that you’ve been doing. Things like self-sabotage and unhelpful thought patterns.”

“Doesn’t sound very linguistic to me,” I said.

“Well, how people speak is a massive clue to how people are feeling about themselves and other people. I mean, everyone has a friend and every time you meet them it’s all negative and, when you walk away, you feel drained.

“I’ve gone from what I would consider being a walking re-action to everyone, to deciding how to react to everything. Or not. If you suffer from road rage, you can notice what is building up and choose whether or not to get into that state. A lot of people don’t realise they have a choice: they think it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to a situation: If this happens, I WILL lose my rag or feel sad or eat biscuits. Everyone’s got these patterns and habits.

“You can’t really be a writer and not be interested in – and I don’t mean just a comedy writer, because I write other stuff as well – I don’t think you can be a writer and write about humans and the human condition and not be interested in why we think like we do and where those thoughts come from.”

Jo is previewing iScream at the London Theatre in New Cross this Thursday, then at the Leicester Square Theatre on Good Friday.

Rather obviously, I asked her: “What if you get crucified?”

“I will rise again on the third day and do another show on the Monday,” she told me.

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The newish comic most likely to become successful? I get sidetracked by Chaucer

Archie at Soho Theatre this week

Archie at the Soho Theatre in London this week

You can never tell who is going to succeed. Some extremely talented performers crash and burn. Some with minimal talent strike it lucky. (See vast swathes of BBC3.)

So who do I guess is the current reasonably-new comedian most likely to succeed…?

Archie Maddocks.

Maybe as a comedian.

Maybe as something else.

I blogged about him back in October last year.

I saw him recently in the Amused Moose Laugh Off Awards semi-finals. He got through to the final at the Edinburgh Fringe on 3rd August.

And I was one of the judges at the English Comedian of The Year a couple of weeks ago. Archie was competing but was not in the first three.

“What about talent contests?” I asked him when we met at Soho Theatre this week.

“I completely understand why they’re there,” he told me. “But I really don’t like them. The judging panel could love someone on one night then see them another night and think they’re shit. There’s so many different things go into that one night.

“My ideal way to do it would be to have a final every night for a week and put the comedians in different places on the bill, then take an average score. That would make sense for me in terms of comedy.”

“You’re at the Edinburgh Fringe this year,” I said, “but not in a solo show.”

Edinburgh Fringe show 2014

Maddocks’ & Oliphant’s Fringe show 2014

“I’m not going to do a solo show,” said Archie, “until 2016 at the earliest. At the Fringe this year, I’m one of the acts in Just The Tonic’s Big Value Showcase. And I’m doing a free show called Cookies & Cream with Jamie Oliphant who, surprisingly, doesn’t have a joke about his name. And I’m doing lots of other little things. But not a solo show. I’m not ready.”

“What’s your Unique Selling Proposition?” I asked.

“Probably confidence,” said Archie. “Everyone seems to say I’m stupidly confident for my position. But I’m very at home on stage. Some people have said that to me as a criticism, but how can that be a criticism?”

“I guess,” I said, “you feel comfortable because you grew up in a theatrical family where it was not abnormal to stand up in front of people and do strange things. Do you get stage fright?””

“No, but you can tell I’m nervous if I speak faster. I used to do this pacing thing just cos I wasn’t comfortable standing still and talking. But now I am. I only move when it makes sense to move. Coming to stand-up from an acting background is weird. I think there’s more recognition for acting. When an audience watches an actor, they recognise what that person’s job is. Whereas, with comedy, they’re not quite clear what job the comic is doing.”

“If you’re an actor,” I suggested, “the audience knows you have artificially created that atmosphere in the room but, with a good comic, it feels like they are just chatting to you in a non-artificial way so it feels like they are not performing, just being themselves.”

“I guess,” said Archie.

“You’ve probably,” I joked, “written 15 plays since the last time I chatted to you.”

Archie’s Compulsion at the Fringe

Fringe Compulsion: self-punishment & flagellation

“I’ve written a few plays,” laughed Archie. “One is going to be at the Fringe. It’s my first Edinburgh play. It’s called Compulsion and it’s about self-punishment and self-flagellation.”

“Sounds like comedians,” I said.

“Sort of,” laughed Archie. “It’s set in the minds of this one man and it’s him compulsively going over whether or not he has been a good person, looking back at memories of when he found himself being ashamed of something. It’s about him kind of descending into insanity.”

“You’re not performing in that?”

“No. I’ve written and directed it.”

“And a ‘serious’ actor plays the part of the man?”

“There’s several of them.”

“Different facets of the mind?”

“Exactly. They are called The Facets. Four of them altogether; one playing the same character throughout; the other three switching between facets and memories.”

“Directing is dead easy, isn’t it?” I said. “You just tell ‘em to stand over there and put more emphasis on a couple of words.”

Archie at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

Archie straddling comedy and theatre at the Shoreditch venue

“It is much harder work than I anticipated,” replied Archie. “It’s the first time I’ve directed a proper production; I’ve directed youth theatre before, but that’s very different. I think it’s something I’d like to do more of later on. It’s interesting to be so much more immersed into a text – moreso than when you are just acting. I feel I am the eyes of the audience and I’m conducting how I want them to see it.”

“It’s like writing,” I suggested. “The way to write is not to think of yourself as the writer but to go round 180% and look on what you are writing as if you are the reader, seeing the words for the first time as they appear on the page.”

“Exactly,” said Archie.

“As a director,” I asked, “did you change any of the pearls of wisdom you wrote as a writer?”

“Yes. Cut words. Cut entire scenes. Added in new scenes.”

“Was that,” I asked, “because you changed your mind or because the actors played it differently to the way you had imagined?”

“A combination of things,” explained Archie. “And we have no budget, so there were some scenes I thought we would be able to pull them off and we couldn’t.”

“Because of scenery and effects?” I asked.

“Scenery and time constraints, because it’s only a 50-minute play. There was originally a scene where they were going to be talking in metaphor about how a man has to use his tools in order to be a good craftsman and how that translates into actually being a good man. It was a nice scene but, in the whole dynamic and rhetoric of the play, it didn’t add anything. I would have had to dress them up in high-visibility building gear. That’s an expense we don’t need. We would have had to build a soundscape for the builders’ yard. So I threw that out. Now we have people in parks, people in showers. Very easy to do just with subtle lighting changes.

Archie Maddocks

Archie – stories not words are precious

“Obviously I found it hard directing my own writing because I’m so close to it – It’s hard to cut certain things and, if the actors dropped a line, at first I would get a bit precious. Oh no – I wrote that for a reason! But, if rhythmically the actors are not getting what I saw and it’s coming out not as I thought it would come out, then I’ll change it around to make it make sense. The exact words are not that important. The story is still being told.”

“It’s like spelling,” I said. “Correct spelling is much over-rated. Shakespeare couldn’t even spell his own name.”

“And he made up words,” said Archie, “No-one complained about that.”

“Did he?” I asked.

“I think he made up the word ‘swagger’ and made up the phrase ‘heart on your sleeve’. Something like 500 words and phrases have been attributed to Shakespeare.”

“I think Roald Dahl invented the word ‘gremlin’,” I said. “You could die happy if you got a new word in the Oxford English Dictionary.”

“This is why,” said Archie, “I get really annoyed with people who don’t like kids who talk in slang. It’s their own language. You can’t be annoyed at that. If you don’t understand it, don’t say You must talk like I talk.”

“Chaucer is unintelligible,” I said. “Have you read Chaucer?”

“Yeah. I love Chaucer. But it’s hard to get through.”

“I couldn’t cope with Chaucer,” I said. “Shakespeare’s within bounds, but Middle English is another language.”

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

Seer Gahwayn and Te Green Kennihte or however it was pronounced in the far-off Middle English days

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight,” said Archie. “Great story, but its readability… phwoah!

“I remember,” I said, “reading some Edgar Wallace novel which was written maybe around the 1910s or 1920s and thinking it was written in a slightly different language from the 1960s and 1970s.”

“Yeah,” said Archie, “Language evolves and people should accept the evolution of it, rather than try to kill it.”

“Presumably,” I said, “English will develop into the world language, but there will be Indian English and Chinese English as well as American English. I mean, Yorkshire English and Glasgow English and Kerry English are all slightly different.”

“There will,” said Archie, “be just be loads of different versions of pidgin English.”

“Which is why it’s a great language,” I said.

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The Awkward Silence of sketch comedy: gigs I have embarrassingly never seen

The Awkward Silence: I have no idea what they look like either

Back on the 6th November, I got an e-mail from one Ralph Jones asking if I’d like a free ticket to come along and see The Awkward Silence host a show called Rufus Sewell Turns 45 which included four other acts but not Rufus Sewell.

Getting a free ticket meant I would save the £5 admission charge and I am a Scot brought up among Jews.

So I was going to go, but had to cancel at the very last moment.

I could not go to their November 19th show either.

Which brings us to their gig this Saturday.

I can’t go to that one either and the Awkward Silence seldom seem to come to London except on gig days. So Ralph Jones suggested, with a commendable tenacity for publicity, that I interview him by e-mail.

Clearly, I must have been weakening in the run-up period to my current coughing fits, as I said OK.

This is never a good idea. Always chat in the flesh.

ME: Who are you?

RALPH: The Awkward Silence. A sketch group made up of myself and Vyvyan Almond. We started in March 2011 and host regular nights in both Oxford and London.

ME: No, I meant, who are YOU?

RALPH: I’m the smaller one. I write our sketches and give myself all the good parts. I write stuff for other projects too – comic poetry; articles for The New Statesman and The Freethinker; and another comedy double-act thing called Fat Bat.

ME: Fuck me! You’re bloody intellectuals! Do I really want to see another bunch of Oxbridge wankers who want to become millionaires by dumbing-down to TV viewers they despise?

RALPH: It’s odd that being ‘intellectual’ or having gone to Oxbridge (I didn’t, and therefore the material isn’t ‘Oxbridge’) seems almost to get people on their guard these days. There’s certainly been a change in the zeitgeist since Beyond The Fringe. Obviously if you judge a show or a performer by which university they attended, feel free in advance not to watch, but Cambridge and Oxford do consistently turn out some incredibly talented comics and always will. There are obviously thousands of talented comics from everywhere else too, and from all or none of the other universities, but Oxbridge does draw the good ‘uns like moths to a flame.

ME: So why are you doing comedy?

RALPH: I’ve been fascinated by it since I was very young, and I staged my first sketch show when I was 14,

ME: What happened? I like quirky anecdotes. Embarrassing is good.

RALPH: This first show was called Insanity Has Its Disadvantages and was staged at the Burton Taylor Theatre in Oxford. One of the sketches was just me sat onstage reading a poem about buttocks. Excruciating. I think everyone but me was very embarrassed by it. But it was a start. Since then, I’ve never really stopped. I think the appeal lies in the instant reward, really – getting a very tangible recognition of one’s work.

ME: You’re being bleedin’ intellectual again. You mean audience applause gives you a hard-on?

RALPH: No, applause doesn’t. Audiences do. And it has to stem from falling in love with other people’s comedy at some stage in your life. That certainly happened for me, over and over again, with Monty Python, The Young Ones, The Simpsons, Peter Cook…

ME: That’s a varied bunch. What links them together?

RALPH: I think they all tread a fine line between the real and the surreal and are excellent at employing verbal comedy to good effect (Peter Cook in particular; less so The Young Ones). I don’t count The Young Ones as seminal, but your comedy background hinges around when you encounter certain programmes. I suppose The Young Ones spoke to me loudest when I was about 13. And Peter Cook, for example, is someone who really grew on me over time and who remains an enormous influence.

ME: All those people are male. The Awkward Silence is two blokes. Did you think of having a female third member of the group? Or a black lesbian in a wheelchair?

RALPH: Over two years ago we did sort of start off with a girl in the group but she had to pull out. All of the black lesbians in wheelchairs that I know are in other sketch groups.

ME: Why do sketch comedy? It’s dead, isn’t it?

RALPH: Obviously not. And, even if it were, a resurgence would be necessary.

ME: Why?

RALPH: Because just watching panel shows and stand-up is fucking boring. And because sketch is often host to a much wider variety of interesting forms of expression. There are bags of wonderfully talented sketch groups out on the live circuit but it’s a form that’s often difficult to translate to radio or TV – it tends to have a lower hit-rate than stand-up or panel shows but, when done well, it can succeed in being incredibly exciting. And writing and performing sketch leads you on to trying your hand at other things anyway, like sitcoms or prostitution.

ME: Do you want to add a half-sentence extra as a punchline for the mention of prostitution?

RALPH: No.

ME: Isn’t sketch/ensemble comedy for people who don’t have the balls to do solo stand-up?

RALPH: I certainly have neither the balls nor the talent to do solo stand-up. But I also much prefer sketch – So it’s not a plan B.

ME: What is in your psychological make-up which makes that so?

RALPH: I suppose those who do sketch comedy – like myself – prefer playing different people and portraying different worlds. That’s why my sketches aren’t very realist and tend to be a little odd. The reluctance to do stand-up is often – and I don’t want to get too psychoanalytical here – for fear of giving off a genuine representation of yourself onstage. Certainly it is with me anyway. Shit, I’ve said too much… I’d certainly like to explore solo character stuff at some point because I think I’d regret not doing so. But there’s no doubt it takes more balls to be a stand-up than a sketch act.

ME: Why?

RALPH: Because you haven’t got the safety net of other performers; because you’re far more likely to get heckled; because your journeys are more lonely; because people might not like ‘the real you’; because you haven’t got as many excuses to dress up like a bell-end. Those guys have got it tough… On the other hand one can just ‘get up and do’ stand-up, so often it’s practised by people who haven’t put in the level of preparation that goes into sketch. It’s easier to be good as a stand-up but it’s also easier to be bad.

ME: Why?

RALPH: It’s easier to be bad because lots of people do believe that it’s possible to just ‘get up and do’ stand-up and be good at it whereas, with sketch comedy, the gaping flaws in the plan are given more time – and people – to dawn on you. It’s (arguably) easier to be good at stand-up because you can perform far more frequently; you’re your own boss; you have more of a rapport with the audience; and because stand-up is much more widely understood to be an actual thing. Saying that you do ‘sketch comedy’ still elicits fairly blank expressions in most people.

ME: Isn’t sketch comedy for frustrated actors not comedians?

RALPH: I think you’re onto something there. Although I myself am a frustrated writer,

ME: Are you a writer who performs to make sure it’s presented correctly? Or a performer who writes to make sure you get suitable material?

RALPH: Definitely the former. If I could give up either performing or writing, I’d give up performing in a heartbeat. I love watching other people perform my stuff very well – that’s perhaps even better than performing it myself. I’m not a frustrated actor. Vyvyan’s an actor but he’s not frustrated, except with his uncanny ability to always lose items of clothing. We never do a gig without him losing an umbrella or a sock.

ME: So what’s the difference between actors, stand-up comedians and sketch performers?

RALPH: Actors – serious…. Stand-ups – mental… Sketch performers – deluded.

ME: What’s happening on 1st December?

RALPH: We are hosting our fourteenth Special Guests night at the Wilmington Arms.

We aim to do these monthly. On the 1st we’ve got Colin Hoult, Jenny Fawcett, Max & Ivan, The Pin and Paul Fung. We were originally going to have the show on 28th November and were going to celebrate the 100th anniversary – to the day – of the independence of Albania.

ME: So your one-line sales pitch for the re-scheduled show would be…?

RALPH: Just when you think Bette Midler couldn’t have another birthday, she goes off and has another birthday… Ever wanted to celebrate Bette Midler’s 67th birthday in a pub in Clerkenwell? Then this is the gig for you.

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Surely not a £500,000+ music biz rip-off? How a hit record made “no money”

(A version of this piece was also published by Indian news site We Speak News)

Bobby Valentino – when Young at Heart

This morning, Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank resigned because of the interest rate fixing scandal, which most ordinary people might consider fraud. Apparently it was not legally fraud and, of course, I would not dream of implying that anything illegal was done by anyone. Clearly, in the case of Barclays Bank, everything which was done was done in a perfectly legal way – even if, to ordinary people, it was amoral and arguably immoral.

Amorality and lateral thinking where money is concerned, of course, is not limited to the banking industry. The movie industry and the music business are notorious for creative thinking where money is concerned.

Last week, I was chatting to the superb violinist Bobby Valentino in London.

I think I first saw Bobby perform when he was part of the Hank Wangford band in the mid 1980s. He is arguably most famous for his violin intro to The Bluebells’ 1993 release of their song Young at Heart.

This resulted in a 2002 court case in which Bobby claimed he had composed the very distinctive violin intro and that it made a significant enough difference to the song to be considered an original contribution. He won the case and won 25% of the writer’s royalties, backdated to 1993.

You might think that would have made him a lot of money.

Last week, though, he told me it had not.

“How much do you reckon you are owed?” I asked.

“Maybe between half a million and three quarters of a million pounds,” he replied.

“But you won the court case,” I said.

“You like surreal comedy,” he said, “so you’ll like this.”

“Mmmmm….” I said.

“I won the court case,” he told me. “The publishers were ordered to disclose their statements and PRS (the Performing Right Society) volunteered their statements. But they are, to be charitable, surreal. Young at Heart seems to have been the only pop song in history that didn’t earn anywhere near the expected royalties. On average, the figures are about 5% of what you’d expect them to be.”

“How do people calculate the expected royalties on a song?” I asked.

“By comparing it with other songs which sold similar amounts and had roughly the same amount of radio and TV play,” he replied. Bobby studied Mathematics at York University.

“There was a very high-profile TV ad for VW,” he explained, “which should have made about £80,000 for the song on just one run, from 14th February to 31st March 1993. The PRS statement for that first run shows less than £2,000 to the writer. And there was a second run of the same ad from 5th October to 4th December 1993. That should have made another £70,000.

“So how much did that second run make?” I asked.

“There are no royalties shown for that at all,” said Bobby. “None.”

“They claim there were zero royalties from the transmission run of a high-profile VW ad over two months?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bobby. “And zero royalties for the song from America. It wasn’t a hit in America. It was only a ‘college hit’, so there would not have been a lot due. But there should have been something. Plus there were a load of British TV shows which used the song and which played in America – Midsomer Murders, all that sort of stuff. But there’s absolutely not one penny from America on the publisher’s statements or the PRS statements.”

“But Young at Heart is like Blur’s Song 2,”  I interrupted. “The sort of song where TV shows and promo & ad makers use the opening and not the song itself. Song 2 has the Wooo-Hoooooo! opening bit and Young at Heart has your violin intro.”

“Yeah,” agreed Bobby. “The number of times they use the Young at Heart opening – Diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-yup-de-yup – in You’ve Been Framed!… When people are falling over, they use the violin’s Diddle-diddle diddle-diddle diddle-yup-de-yup.

“People have said to me,” Bobby laughed. “Surely there must be something dodgy with the figures that are being provided? and I tell them: Well, YOU may say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

“PRS’s excuse is that every UK radio station failed to report to them correctly, every UK TV station failed to report to them correctly and every overseas rights society failed to report to them correctly.”

“Who’s saying this?” I asked.

“PRS.”

“What’s the explanation?”

“Well,” said Bobby. “Someone suggested to me that the upper management at PRS has no idea what the lower echelons are doing. But that can’t be true, can it? I’m sure PRS are honourable guys. But the lower guys have come up with these statements of literally 5% of what you’d expect. You can only laugh.

“I get a bit of money. But what I should have got was the money backdated to 1993 and these statements are surreal: 5% of what you’d expect.

“In fact, I’ve got paperwork that contradicts the PRS figures, but apparently that paperwork is ‘in error’.”

“Where’s the paperwork from?” I asked.

EMI Publishing,” Bobby replied.

“PRS is saying the EMI paperwork is in error?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yeah. And they claim the whole song made £25,000 in the first year. In that first year, it should have made about a third of a million pounds. And it would have made £2 million over ten years.”

“It’s PRS who are due to pay you the money?” I asked.

“No,” said Bobby, “it’s the publishers and the main writer who are due to pay me the money. The publishers did not disclose their performance statements. You get statements for Mechanicals (which is sales), for Synch (when something is part of a TV ad) and for Performance. Hit records usually earn considerably more in Performance royalties than they do in Mechanical royalties. And the publishers did not disclose their own Performance statements.

“So they (Clive Banks Music, Anxious Music (Dave Stewart’s publishing company) and Universal Music) relied on the PRS statements. They said The PRS statements are good enough, because PRS is supposed to be Blue Chip. But, like I say, the figures read like they are from some obscure surreal comedy.

Young at Heart was a hit in Denmark. You’d expect maybe £25,000 in writer royalties for a hit in Denmark but the writer supposedly only earned £185.

“It was a hit in Portugal. The writer supposedly earned £141 – and the VW TV ad was also shown in Portugal which made the song No1 in the air-play and sales charts!

“It was a big hit in Italy. PRS claimed the writer was only due £31. There was a friend of mine in a bar in Italy and he asked about the song and the whole bar just started singing it – in English.

“When you average out all the amounts that are missing, it works out I got about 5% of what you’d expect.”

“And you reckon you might be down maybe £500,000 to £750,000 on it?”

“Yes,” said Bobby, “Of course, there are always cock-ups. It didn’t help that the publisher changed on 4th March 1993. Maybe, in that year, what might have happened is that we got shown the statements for money due before 4th March instead of for the whole year, but the odd thing is that PRS have matched the publisher’s statements to the penny. And that is weird. Statements never match each other to the penny. They might up a fiver; they might be down a fiver; it all evens out. But, in the real world, they never ever match to the penny.

Bobby Valentino smiles at surreal figures last week

“PRS claim that the sub-publisher changed from MCA to EMI on 31st Dec 1993 but I have a statement from EMI Music which shows them collecting royalties in July 1993 because, in fact, the change happened on 4th March 1993.

“This thing where the figures match exactly despite all those complications is just plain weird.

“I’ve done calculations on lots of other songs in the past and they’re never quite right. They can be a fiver or a tenner out each time. It’s up and down – swings and roundabouts – but these ones match to the penny. That never happens normally. If you don’t know the system, you might think the fact that they match seems reasonable: Well, they’re supposed to match, you would think.

“But not in the real world. For them to match to the penny is bizarre.”

I certainly have to admire Bobby’s ability to face the bizarre and the surreal.

What is even more bizarre is that I know someone else in the music business who tells me that there was a meeting of the Music Publishers’ Association shortly after that 2002 court case in which the judge (who was musically-trained) awarded Bob 25% of the royalties on Young at Heart.

“They were up in arms,” my friend told me. “They were going: We can’t have musicians getting royalties as writers! The world will fall apart if musicians get royalties as writers! And their whole vibe was: The judge got it wrong. So maybe someone decided to ‘put it right’.

“Someone told me PRS really stands for the Publisher’s Rip-off Society and not the Performing Right Society.”

But surely she must be wrong.

I believe that, like the movie distribution business, the music publishing business is an honourable world filled with honourable people.

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The serious subject of performing a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Yesterday, someone asked me for advice about their next Edinburgh Fringe comedy show.

The Fringe does not start until next August, but now is the time people begin their preparation.

His problem was that he had a factually-based one-hour show and has fallen out with his on-stage partner. It happens. Fortunately, the person asking me had written the entire show on his own, otherwise there might have been tears over ownership.

“My show is written for two people” he told me. “It’s written for me and a sidekick/straight man. How do I translate that into just me? How would Eric do his act without Ernie? I don’t think I’m gonna find another partner in time. And the show is funny but factually-based. It’s going to end up sounding/feeling like a talk/lecture. How do I manage to keep the thing bubbling?”

“Well,” I suggested. “It’s already a show about true facts. You could tell the truth, say there was going to another person and it fell through. Then you play both parts straight but, in the way you tell the story and in the nature of playing two parts straight, it will be funny. The fact that the other guy is not appearing becomes part of the show, another layer, a sub-plot, added texture.”

“But how do I actually physically perform it?” the newly-solo act asked me.

“Just as a monologue,” I suggested. “Or you could do the old Tommy Cooper thing of literally wearing two different hats, depending on which person you are. That might get a bit tiresome over 55 minutes… Or it might work.

“Personally, I think you should just do it as a talk/lecture. It is the style and personality that makes it interesting. All one-hour stand-up shows are really just lectures made funny by the personality of the performer.

“If you have a one-hour comedy show, it has to be about one central thing, unless you’re a brilliant gag-machine act like Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones or Tim Vine.

“Most of the really creatively successful Edinburgh shows since 2004 (I date everything from Janey Godley’s jaw-dropping confessional Edinburgh Fringe show Good Godley!) have been about one aspect of the performer’s life or a series of anecdotes strung together with one central thread running through.

“That’s the difference between a comedy act that can last 20 minutes in a club (a series of unconnected gags) and a comedy show that lasts 55 minutes (smoothly-linked anecdotes that have an over-all subject and shape).

“In your case, you already have the subject. The trick in an hour-long Edinburgh Fringe show is not to find enough gags to fill-up 55 minutes. The trick is to find one story that will last 55 minutes and which, in the telling, will be incidentally funny at regular intervals.

“You should see one of Janey Godley’s shows,” I suggested. “She is possibly the best storyteller I have ever seen and I have seen a few. A lot of other comedians do not understand why she gets such totally OTT rave review quotes for her shows because, as fellow performers on a bill with her at some club, they have only ever seen little bits and pieces of her club act. She doesn’t really do traditional gags. She does personality. She does very good 20 or 30 minute spots, but her real forte is 60 or 90 minute shows.

“And the fascinating thing about her full-length shows is that there is almost nothing ‘funny’ in them at all. The subjects are all serious and very often horrendously sad. But her personality and storytelling makes them very, very funny. I don’t think of her as a stand-up comic. She is a very, very funny storyteller. It’s that Frank Carson line – It’s the way you tell ‘em.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the worried performer said, “You go on about Janey and she may be brilliant. But what do you yourself actually know about performing an Edinburgh show?”

“Nothing,” I admitted. “But most people don’t notice.”

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