Tag Archives: print

Hackney Empire man lied for Geoffrey Archer + naked mental breakdowns

Roland Muldoon at his book launch yesterday

Roland Muldoon at yesterday’s book launch

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

L.P. Hartley could have been writing about the 1980s.

In 1986, Roland and Claire Muldoon re-opened Edwardian music hall the Hackney Empire in London as the home of ‘New Variety’ where stand-up comedy intermingled with dance, music, panto, opera, Caribbean farce and much more. Their background was in political theatre. They aimed to be ‘an Alternative National Theatre’.

Nineteen years later – in 2005 – the Muldoons were squeezed out after local government politicking, a series of failed internal coups, being starved of subsidies, the imposition of bankers and bureaucrats on the management board and much else. It is quite a tale.

In Roland’s book, how The Empire struck back

Roland on how The Empire struck back

Now Roland Muldoon has written a book called Taking On The Empire: How We Saved The Hackney Empire For Popular Theatre. Presumably he has had the text checked by libel lawyers, just in case.

I went along to the book launch in Hackney yesterday afternoon.

“We once had a dream before the Hackney Empire,” Roland Muldoon said, “that we would take over a castle in the Midlands and run an alternative motorway cafe. Luckily, we moved on to the Empire instead. We had great ambitions in those days to take over the world. And we still have.”

One anecdote told in Roland’s book is of a fundraising event to keep the Empire going. Author and politician Jeffrey Archer donated an item for the auction: an Andy Warhol silkscreen print of Marilyn Monroe. Archer had recently declared he would run for Mayor of London, although the Tories were undecided whether this was a good idea for them, given Archer’s somewhat dodgy image. So he may have been as much attracted to the charitable-sounding self-publicity as to publicising the Hackney Empire.

Roland and Claire arranged a publicity photo shoot with Jeffrey Archer and Ken Livingstone (whom the Labour Party had already told not to apply for the Mayoral job) plus comedian Griff Rhys-Jones and the lead in the Empire’s forthcoming panto Dick Whittington.

In his book, Roland writes: “Controversy and accusations of telling porkies seemed to follow Jeffrey Archer around wherever he went. Out of the blue came the question Are you aware that the Marilyn isn’t a genuine Warhol print?”

It turned out that, after Warhol had run off his own limited edition silkscreen prints, his friends came along to his studio and ran off some more for themselves. The Archer print was not one of the Warhol originals.

Roland says: “A reporter from the Daily Telegraph pressed me hard: Did he lead you to believe he was donating a genuine Andy Warhol or not?No, he never said it was, I lied, despite my total dislike of his politics. I couldn’t bring myself to slag off a benefactor and I was dubious about any benefit it would bring to our campaign if I did. Now I’ve done it. It’s out – I lied for Geoffrey Archer.”

Books are clearly a growth industry for people in the comedy business.

At the book launch, comedian Hattie Hayridge was telling me she had checked with Penguin Books and her fascinating 1997 autobiography Random Abstract Memory is out of print, so she is now able to re-publish it herself, though she finds the technology rather daunting.

Bob Boyton (left) with Mark Thomas

Authors Bob Boyton (left) and Mark Thomas yesterday

I also bumped into Bob Boyton, another stand-up turned author, who told me about possible follow-ups to his novel Bomber Jackson Does Some.

He also told me about what he claims was the only time he ever performed naked.

“It was about 27 years ago,” he explained. “There was something called The Mastery, which was related to The Actors’ Centre, which was related to Esalen, which was a real hard core growth movement thing from California. The idea was it helped actors to break down.”

“Sounds quite dangerous,” I said, “to encourage people to break down emotionally, unless you really look after people.”

“What it didn’t do,” said Bob, “was to say that you should take the leap on stage and in rehearsal, but the rest of your life should be ordered.

“So they did this weekend called The Mastery and I was very cross, because they sort-of encouraged people to break down. If you survived, at the end of the weekend, you broke into little groups and did a little sketch. I was already enough of a practising stand-up to realise that sketches have to be something special to work.

“So I was in the middle of this grim sketch with these actors who all played drama students and I played the caretaker who was sweeping up after them and the only way to liven things up was, each time they finished a chorus, I’d come on with me broom and I’d shed an article of clothing… I was a lot slimmer then.”

“And you felt better for this?” I asked.

“Well, I got a shag that night,” replied Bob, smiling broadly.

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Rearranging books on the shelves of the Titanic as the iceberg gets even closer

Never to be available as printed book

“Printed books are dead,” I told someone recently.

I was having a chat with him because he intends to become an independent publisher. He seemed to me to be surprisingly still wedded to physical books printed on paper.

I pointed out to him that it used to be the case, when you travelled in a London tube train, you saw lots of people reading books and newspapers.

Now – and I do often consciously count ‘em – most people in the late afternoon or evening are looking at smartphones or tablets or occasionally Kindles. And a few are reading the free Evening Standard. No-one is reading a paid-for newspaper. Almost no-one is reading a printed book.

“That’s only in London,” he told me.

I don’t know if that is true. But soon it will be everywhere.

Local and regional newspapers are dying. National printed newspapers and magazines  are plunging off a cliff. And printed books are in terminal decline.

I am in the process of turning my 2010-2011 blogs into an eBook – a soul-destroying process.

I would only issue the blogs as an eBook; there is no point publishing them in a printed book. No-one will buy it, of course, even as an eBook – because they can access the same material for free online. But there might be a few sales if it is pitched very cheap; and it is a tiny bit of self-publicity; and it is a learning process for me.

Malcolm Hardee book. New version published?

Once I understand the pitfalls, I intend to re-issue comedian Malcolm Hardee’s iconic autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an eBook and as a print-on-demand book, possibly in a revised form (the publisher changed the original opening and the chapter endings, making it less interesting). And I have four other ‘books’ partially-ready after that, some to be issued solely as eBooks, some as both e and print-on-demand books.

Print-on-demand means you only print the exact number of books required; there is no wastage.

Yesterday, I went to a two-hour event called Going Indie: The Writer in The Digital Age at the Free Word Centre in London. I was surprised that, there too, there was a reluctance to admit the printed book is dead. Almost all the talk was about the apparent rise of small, independent publishers with an emphasis on printed books and physical bookshops rather than the opportunities for ePublishing, self-publishing and internet retail… although Amazon, of course, was mentioned.

I was interested to hear that 60 million books are sold in the UK every year and 20% of those are cookery books. I do not know how many of the non-cookery books are eBooks. I understand that now, in North America, sales of eBooks outnumber the sales of printed books.

Amazon, of course, dominate. And they have lots of different charts covering different subject areas.

Interestingly, Darren Laws of small British publisher Caffeine Nights yesterday explained how he had increased the profile of one of his books on Amazon.

“We looked at the charts and looked at what was selling,” he revealed. “We saw that, on the numbers, one particular crime fiction book we published was outselling the No 1 sports fiction title on Amazon. Our book had a sports fiction background so, legitimately, we swapped the chart listing for it from crime fiction to sports fiction and suddenly we had a No 1 book. It found its audience readership, it stayed there for quite some time. On eBooks, we were selling a couple of hundred a month on that title: quite good for a small company like us.”

Justine Solomons of Byte the Book observed: “The internet gives you the ability to find someone who’s a bit like you.”

She also, rather oddly, admitted: “I used to choose the books I read by publisher. That’s becoming increasingly important: brands.”

Indeed, some small publishers now have subscribers, rather like book clubs, where their readers pay to buy future as-yet-unknown books from the publisher.

Meike Ziervogel of Peirene Press said: “We publish contemporary European bestsellers in translation so, although our authors are very well-known abroad, no-one knows them here and no-one really cares if they’ve won prizes and sold millions of books abroad. We run a highly successful subscription service. We have subscribers up to the end of 2015, but we have only announced our 2013 catalogue. So people are trusting what we will be putting out. We have a strong brand.”

“You’re going more towards the magazine model,” Justine Solomons suggested to her. “The definition of a magazine is you have a body of work and you have issues from it. It doesn’t need to be journal articles. Granta ran on that model for a long time. You subscribe because you know the sort of stuff you will get. Like The New Yorker.”

Peirene Press also hold ‘roaming stores’ which sell books.

Rebecca Swift of The Literary Consultancy pointed out: “Meike was last seen in Budgens supermarket at Crouch End. This kind of ingenuity and dextrous thinking around how you’re going to sell what you’re passionate about is absolutely vital and goes hand-in-hand with really good publishing.”

“That story underlines why independent publishers are so exciting,” said Rachael Ogden of Inpress. “You don’t find the Managing Director of Random House at Budgens. They don’t get that close to the reader.”

To me, though, all this talk of printed books is like King Canute standing on the bow of the Titanic, talking about re-arranging books on the shelves in the library as he watches the iceberg approach and admires the craftsmanship which went into the building of the ocean-going liner.

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Edinburgh Fringe news: cookies, gays, Jews & will Guardian newspaper close?

It is not just lines of coke confusing life at Edinburgh Fringe

Being at the Edinburgh Fringe can be a bit like the long-gestating new tram system: no-one knows what’s going on. It is like being in a self-contained bubble. The outside world disappears into mist. All the moreso this year as BBC TV News appears to have given up reporting most news except the Olympics. I have been watching Al Jazeera and, superb as they are, they tend not to report too much UK news trivia.

I completely missed the news that London’s Time Out listings magazine announced last week that it is going to become a free publication.

We live – as the Chinese curse goes – in interesting times.

Someone told me this morning that the Guardian is currently selling so few copies per day of its print edition that Alan Rusbridger, the editor, is no longer committed to the print edition and is inclined to cease publication of the printed paper within a year, relying on the millions who access it online. Even now, there is more Guardian content free to access online than in the pay-to-read print newspaper. So why buy it?

Is this true or is it gossip or is it spin?

It is not happening inside the Fringe bubble in Edinburgh in the next three weeks. So who cares?

Meanwhile, Fringe life continues apace. After I saw Half Past Bitch at the Hive yesterday afternoon, its co-star Daphna Baram told me:

Daphna Baram shares cookies yesterday

“Last night I got on a taxi at 5.00am. The driver immediately asks me if I am a comedian and took an interest in my shows. He was in his 50s and he said he was a Scottish Moroccan. I told him that Mina Znaidi, my partner in Half Past Bitch, is Moroccan. He looked at her photo on the flyer and said She’s a good looking woman. Is she good?

“I embarked in praise of Mina’s comedic mirth but he dismissed it all, saying By ‘Is she good’ I mean does she do as she’s told? I was quite shocked and very drunk but not enough to realise that it would probably not be a good idea to quote back at him Mina’s joke: I was raised to be an obedient girl; I never say no to anal… You don’t want to know his reaction.”

Daphna and Mina’s show has a good selling point for would-be punters. They are given free cookies when they come into the room at The Hive. “Our slogan,” says Daphna, “is Free comedy. Free cookies. Free shelter from the rain. Three for the price of none.”

The downside is that the show is only on until Friday.

Wedding Bells? David Mills and Daphna Baram? No.

I stayed on at the Hive yesterday afternoon to see David Mills’ show David Mills is Smart Casual – Free.

“How do you stay stylish in this weather?” I asked David.

“Stay indoors,” he replied.

“I’m the best-dressed female comic in Edinburgh,” Daphna Baram said as she left. “And David’s the best-dressed male comic.”

“I don’t want to be in this competition,” said David. “This is the Fringe. How can you compete with half-naked teenagers doing an all-male version of The Diary of Anne Frank in a sweaty basement?”

“What was that I saw last year on your chat show with Scott Capurro?” I asked. “I seem to remember semi-naked men.”

David celling his show at The Hive

“It was the all-male version of Sweet Charity,” David reminded me.

“Ah, yes!” I said. “Did you enjoy that?”

“Well, I enjoyed watching (chat show guest) Simon Callow try not to pop a boner.”

“Can I say that in my blog?” I asked. “Has Simon Callow come out?”

“Out, John? He was never in!. What are you? Nuts?”

“Well, I don’t follow the ins and outs of gay life,” I said defensively. “Is your show this year your first solo Fringe show?”

“Yes,” said David, “it’s me on a stool looking great talking for laughs. Is your eternally-un-named friend up in Edinburgh with you?”

“No,” I said. “She doesn’t fancy the crowds and the thought of being with comedians en masse talking about themselves.”

“Well,” said David, “it is like being a therapist because it’s just one clown after another talking about themselves. Me too.”

“I’m sure you enjoy it.”

“Are you kidding? It’s a nightmare. This is a complete nightmare. When I do my show on the continent, it’s mostly non-verbal.”

“Do you?” I said, amazed, “But you’re not a non-verbal comedian. You…”

“I was joking, John,” said David. “It was a joke.”

“I really shouldn’t mix with comedians, should I?” I said. “You’re like Dave Allen; very verbal. Including the chair. I guess you never saw Dave Allen in the US?”

Dave Allen – an influence in the US?

“Yeah,” said David. “They used to show Dave Allen on Public Television when I was growing up in Pennsylvania before we moved to the West Coast and I would sit there literally going Who is this old freak with half a finger, drinking and sitting on a stool? I couldn’t understand most of it because the accent was too thick. But the style of it was so great. It was really compelling.”

“Did he actually inspire you?” I asked. “I want to sit on a stool and do that sort of stuff?

“Well,” said David. “I saw it as a kid and many years passed and I was doing comedy and I did a bit of cabaret, sitting on a stool and then it came back to me and I Googled it and found the name Dave Allen and thought That’s it! That’s the guy! and I started watching and thought That’s it! almost like I had retained it in my mind without remembering his name.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that Dave Allen was really doing a 1930s American cabaret format.”

“Exactly!” said David. “I knew that style already from the US scene, but Dave Allen really crystallised it although American cabaret is very different from British cabaret. British cabaret has that end-of-the-pier and music hall element. American cabaret is literally sat-on-a-stool, singing show tunes, bantering with the audience. I was doing that, getting nowhere and simply cut the piano player.”

David will be singing on my two hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 24th August.

“The song I’m thinking of singing on your show,” David told me, “isn’t really a comedy song.”

“I’ll have to hear it,” I said. “But variation is good. If I put it after or before slapstick it might work.”

David’s show at The Hive was followed by one of Lewis Schaffer’s two daily Fringe shows. I made my excuses and left (look, I know Lewis – and The Scotsman gave him a 4-star review today – he doesn’t need me). On the way out, bumped into my Facebook friend Laura Levites. She told me that she and Lewis both came from Great Neck in New York.

Lewis tells me Great Neck is “an iconic location for rich, flashy, post-poor Jews and a smattering of the failed Jews”.

“It sounds like an interesting blog if I can get you and Laura together,” I said.

“I just want to stand next to her,” said Lewis.

Lewis Schaffer counts one of his plates

Entirely coincidentally, through six degrees of accident, my evening was rounded-off by a meal with Lewis Schaffer (an American living in England), Spring Day (an American living in Japan) and Billy Watson (a Scot living in Turkey). That epitomises the Edinburgh Fringe.

At the end of the meal, we divided the cost and Lewis decided to collect our notes and pay the £50 bill with his small change.

This passes for normal during the Edinburgh Fringe.

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