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Blog ArchivesOctober 2001
Thursday, July 2
Lockdown for Covid-19 started late March 2020. We entered lockdown earlier, around 12th March... since that time I've not performed at any gigs, bar three online ones which were not quite the same as in person ones.
When I don't gig, I go a bit crazy.
Here's a brief diary of the results of insanity, as I've tried to create a new creative world for myself, outside of my normal way of doing things.
(approx) 11th April - did an online gig, decided to write a new song for it - released that song on YouTube
12th April - having decided to "get into Garageband" I bought some video editing software and created and released "Only One Song" a musical parody of La La Land
around this point, I also recorded some music with the children, which I didn't release publicly
18th April - having had the "basic necessities" idea lodged in my head, I released "Covid 19 Lockdown Shopping Song" - a musical parody of The Bare Necessities
2nd May - two weeks after my second parody song, a third emerged - my grand opus - "Lockdown" a Downtown parody
around this point I decided to buy more recording gear - a new microphone especially
26th May - released "Working from Home" a daft original song about remote working
26th May - also launched a new Funny's Funny website - a site about comedy by comedians
2nd June - "Every Day It's Getting Closer" based on me suddenly hearing how the lyric could be subverted while in the car - a music editing video, more than anything else
3rd June - after a LOT of editing, I managed to recapture the Skype/Cher experience in a daft video
3rd June - started writing a book on how to prepare for a cancelled Edinburgh Fringe...
14th June - I tried out my new microphone in a three person video shoot - the idea being to get ready to record a montage video with the children - it turned out I needed a new Mac to do that!
16th June - sent out a training video to 10 children to create "It must be love" video virtual choir
17th June - launched the book
21st June - released the "It must be love" video and then immediately suggested a much larger virtual choir video with the school - a 4 week project, still ongoing!
So, a bunch of videos, a website, a book, two virtual choir projects... a new computer, two kittens (somewhere along the way) lost a stone or so...
When I take the video material I get for the virtual choir, I tweak it so it looks a little better than it did in the room on the day - mainly to fit it in with the project. This is what lockdown is. Reality, but not quite... more so... and yet less so.
I'm quite tired. I enjoyed the brief period in May when I just ate a lot of toast!
Thursday, June 18
My Way of Losing My Mind is Quite Constructive
A lot has happened over the last 2 weeks.
I Wrote a (short) Book
In the spirit of taking a joke too far, I wrote a parody of the How To Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show book. In the form of How to Write, Perform and Produce a Cancelled Edinburgh Fringe Show. I was lucky to have its original author, Ian Fox, on board. We worked hard on what is essentially a long daft chapter with swearing in it.
We Got Kittens
Bill and Ted.
We're still slightly guessing their genders. They came from a socially distanced trip to a corner of Birmingham where they were born to a mummy cat that really needs spaying. Her offspring will be looked after by our family and slightly spat at by our other cat.
My New Microphone Arrived
After a lot of tightening of the budgets at the start of lockdown, the arrival of an Amazon voucher led to the purchase of some audio kit. Especially useful given the amount of music stuff I've been doing. The new microphone was a great price, but a long time coming.
It's very nice.
I Created A Trio With Myself
To road test the microphone and to try out some new video editing software I wanted to use, I made Fugue for Tin Horns from Guys and Dolls:
The video software crashed, so I used my old software.
I Decided to Start A Virtual Choir With Children
Not content with a choir of mini-me's, I decided to create a virtual choir with the local school children. More on that when it happens. But it really needs better video editing software and my 2012 Mac just isn't up to the job.
I Decided to Buy a New Laptop
So much for tightening the belt during lockdown. After a lot of searching for laptop and computer options, my brain became numb to the worrying price of a new MacBook Pro... so I found a "bargain" one... and I'm now a proud MacBook daddy.
So My Office Got a Spruce Up
I didn't want the most expensive computer I've ever owned to be offended by a dirty desk, so I did a bit of a clear up - it smells fresh in here now. Good times. It's still too full, but the desk was always the biggest issue.
I Arrange Music, Apparently
I've learned how to use MuseScore and produced sheet music. I'm working on some musical arrangements... In fairness, I've been writing a few musical arrangements during lockdown, though they never amounted to much. The virtual choir project requires me to masquerade as musical director, film director and editor... and I'm going to do a lot of autotuning!
I imagine being able to sleep again sometime in August!
Tuesday, June 9
I'm A Cilla Black Fan On Bike
Strange, with my sore knee, that I should decide to go on a medium-sized bike ride this evening.
But I did. And it was great.
I didn't push myself too hard, had a lot of problem with accumulating flies, but on the whole came out of it feeling positive and refreshed. What's come over me.
In other news we have kittens at home now.
The rest of this blog will be about kittens.
Sunday, June 7
It's Stupid, Yet Still I Do It
On the whole, it's probably not possible to change someone's opinion in an online discussion, be it on Facebook or Twitter, or anywhere. There are a lot of ways this this is pointless, and a lot of common traits to these discussions. I suppose it probably feels like this, whichever way you're arguing, whether you go into a right-leaning/leaver-leaning discussion with the opposite view, or vice versa. It's not quite that clear-cut, of course since Brexit is an intersectional problem. However, it's probably fair to say that a huge amount of Brexit support is also right-leaning, or anti-liberal left.
Here are a bunch of pointless things that I'll have thrown at me, regardless of any tone I take in a debate:
It's a real shame.
Fuck the lot of them.
Tuesday, May 26
Idea to YouTube in Two Hours
It's odd that I posted the writing process for a song on here and then had the impetus to go away and write a new song.
The process for this video was similar to the one I used for "Tax That", a song I challenged myself to make in the time it took my daughter to have a nap.
It was similar, in that I didn't give myself a long deadline, and aimed to get something done within a short timeframe. I'm not a huge fan of the Tax That song, and I don't like the video, which was just a montage of pictures of Gary Barlow. What was I thinking. It's no longer publicly listed on YouTube, but you can see it from the above link.
In this case, I wrote a page of observations on the daft things that I've seen happen with home workers, or have suspected home workers from doing. Then I started a verse to lead me into the song... then I realised it had a calypso vibe, so write a chorus that fell into that sort of rhythm - this allowed me to rhyme my observations or put setups in for observations. The setups themselves were brought out of my head, prompted by the rhyme I was aiming at.
I put in a nice trick rhyme to bridge chorus 1 with verse 2, which was cute... then I had to start writing verse 2 on the right hand of a double page as I wanted to make it easy to flip back to the left hand page where I'd written by list of observations.
Once we got near the end of the song, it was a matter of trying to put some cherry-on-the-top observations on.
Up comes the guitar, play with the chords, try to avoid the obvious ones. Learn the song a bit... tune the guitar a bit...
Then out comes the phone - point it at my face, record a few terrible takes... get one that's basically ok.
Into the video editor to add subtitles and a final titles card.
Couple of hours, easy mate...
It is worth a whole new site?
I discovered some comedy notes and thought I'd share them here. Then I thought I'd share them on a whole new site about stand-up comedy... that's going to take a while, so they're coming here first.
I like old notebooks. Specifically, I like finding in old notebooks half-finished versions of something that later did get finished. It's interesting to see how something evolved. That applies more to the work of others than myself. I'm fascinated to see how musicals get adapted from original works, or how the later familiar version of a show is different from some earlier incarnation.
In today's installment of my braindumping, here are some evolutionary steps of the Where's Wally song that's available on my Discograffiti album. It wasn't intended to be in the Discograffiti show, but ended up replacing a song about Roget's Thesaurus that was ultimately less enjoyable. The Where's Wally song was originally written for a one-off show called "Not Now, Bernard". I say it was a one-off. It was for me. It was a run of shows where people were invited to bring along material about favourite works of fiction.
I think I ended up doing 4 pieces in the show, one of which was never seen again, and two which ended up in the Discograffiti Album, and one of which ended up in The Seven Deadly Sings. As I recall, I did an ill-conceived version of Anne Frank's Diary as a Ladybird book, where it had a happy engine with a rescue by Space Badgers. Not a zinger.
Then I did The Gruffalo, reimagined as a musical theatre song of self-doubt. That's on my album. I did a break-down of Doe A Deer from The Sound of Music, and then Where's Wally. Not necessarily in that order.
I used my piano and everything.
So, the main driver was to write a song about a childhood hero character, and Where's Wally is, of course, a blank slate as far as this is concern, not having a personality as such, just surface features.
Wally, where are you?
You're really quite elusive
It's totally confusing
That you wear a woolly hat whatever the season
Wally where are you?
For crying out loud
You ask me to meet you in the middle of a Crowd
Then you don't seem to stand out, there's got to be a reason.
What are you hiding from?
Is it love? your sexuality? or debt collectors?
What lies behind your fixed smile and dead eyes?
Did you lose your mind in Vietname?
Did you only ever buy one set of clothes?
Or did someone lose the others in a laundry incident?
Have you ever been somewhere that's not very busy?
Are you a secret agoraphobic?
Wally, where are you?
You're hiding like a chimp [possibly wimp - can't quite read it]
Are you a drug dealer or pimp?
I've wasted hours trying to find you
Wally, I'm leaving!
I've waited long enough
Spotting you's quite tough.
Oh.... you were behind me.
What the hell was that?
I don't think that was quite intended to be the song. It looks more like a deliberate attempt to force ideas out into the open. On it, I've gone and marked certain lines with dots to show how powerful I must have thought they were when I read them back. This is a good trick I've used before with written material. Write the expected reaction type on the page and then review the density/quality from your own point of view. Then edit.
Version 2 (incomplete)
Wally where are you?
You're impossible to find
I've wasted a whole lunchbreak
Trying to meet you for coffee
Wally, what's with you?
Suggesting we meet in crowded places
Everyone has red shaped clothes and similar faces
and no matter the season you're in winter clothes
What are you hiding from?
Is it love, your sexuality, or debt collectors
What lies behind your square jaws, enigmatic smile, and haunted eyes
Did you lose your mind in vietnam?
Version 2 thoughts
It was more structured, but it died on the page. Perhaps at this stage, the lack of structure wasn't helping it. There are a couple of lines starting to take shape, but still it's relatively weak.
Version 3 (of 4)
Wally where are you?
You're so difficult to find
You ask to meet at lunch
When when I finally spot you it's teatime
Your suggest the meeting spot
Where everyone's in red and white
You're proof that the best hiding places are in plain sight
What are you hiding from?
Is it loneliness, debt, or your sexuality?
What's behind your fixed smile and dead eyes?
Did you lose your mind in vietnam?
What's with those winter clothes?
You're in a woolly hat come spring and summer
Have you considered a change in style
Might help you out of your obvious case of depression
Wally, where are you?
Are you even real?
Or are you a hallucination, brought on by eating too much yoghurt...
Close but not quite
This is very close to the final version. It runs out of steam, but it has a lightness of touch in between the darker punchlines. It reads familiarly, but hasn't been finessed in terms of some of the choice of language.
The problem was that it didn't really know how to end. In the end finding an ending involves a visit to Wikipedia as you'll see from this last draft.
Wally where are you?
You're so difficult to find
We arrange to meet at lunch
But when I finally locate you it's tea time
You suggest a meeting spot
Where everyone's in red and white
You're proof that the best hiding places, are in plain sight
What are you hiding from?
Is it loneliness or debt or your sexuality?
What lies behind that fixed smile and dead eyes?
Did you lose your mind in vietnam?
What's with those winter clothes?
You're in a woolly hat come spring and summer
Have you considered a change in style might snap you out of your obvious case of depresssion?
Wally, where are you?
Are you even real?
Or are you an hallucination?
Brought on by eating too much veal... I should say cheese, but that doesn't rhyme
I hear you change your name
When going abroad
In the U.S. you're Waldo
In France you are Charlie
In Iceland you're Valli
In Israel Effi
In Sweden, you're Hugo.... HUGO!?
Where did you go Wally?
Are you Jura, Willy, Holda, or Worri
Or Weili or Walter, I'm sorry
I cannot find you in a hurry
Some of the above happened when the song was sung through with a tune and better lyrics suggested themselves.
Some of this is applying the usual musical comedy cliches of awkward rhymes, either a good rhyme that doesn't make sense, or a shoehorned half rhyme (sorry/hurry).
There's even a structural decision that a rapid-fire laundry list at the end of the song, taken from the aforementioned Where's Wally Wikipedia entry, and full of probably lesser-known facts about the character, would bring the song to a crescendo in terms of interest and density of material.
It's not stand-up club funny this one. It's amusing. I think it's written ok.
You can hear it here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008U8XRIG/ref=dm_ws_tlw_trk10 as well as your favourite streaming services.
Monday, May 25
Somewhere a few years ago, I stopped writing this blog. I'm going to say that it's been about 4 years since I even hit approximately monthly posts. I for one have no grand desire to go back and see how frequently I was posting before then.
I can't give a good reason right now why things changed. Parenthood, career, life, other blogs. I'm sure all have factored into the equation. I think the more I blogged on my coding blog, the less time I had for my what I did on my summer holidays style posts for here.
But, as people keep saying, these are unprecedented times and I think it's ok to return to the fold. I seriously doubt anyone beyond a few stragglers accidentally hitting here owing to weird searches, will read this. These posts are intended for my present mental state and for the confusion of my future self, who will, no doubt be in equal measure:
Sorry future me, the "prof" was a little joke.
There's no doubt that the past is a foreign country... and sometimes even the present can be. I had no idea, for example, that this blog didn't properly work if you accessed it from its native address, rather than the wrap-around shell you get when you visit via www.incredible.org.uk its original home.
Blogger stopped publishing to my own webspace years back, so I allowed a compromise where the www.incredible.org.uk site would be hosted by me and would enwrap the blog, in the hope that the address would still kind of work. The redirection tricks I did were superseded a couple of years ago by something cheaper, and the upshot is that my blog hasn't properly loaded for years and I've not noticed...
I fixed that today. This is what happens when you revisit an old home and notice the maintenance issues... easily fixed, easily not noticed.
To illustrate that the past is a foreign country I shall now read a blog post from 10 years ago to the day (ish).
Blimey, younger me was into:
It's reassuring to know that apart from the last one, these are still a good summary of me.
It's also weird to imagine a life of peaks and troughs of effort where work and gigs were frenetic, and then there's room for chilled out mornings of dozing hugging a cat...
Then you have children and all this turns to something else.
Then you have facebook and all this turns into endless fruitless scrolling.
There's probably a song in here somewhere.
Saturday, May 23
Round and Round my Brain
There's a potential play on words here. Round - is it me being fat? or is it repetition? In this case it's the latter.
The weightloss regime continues (day 4) and I've lost 11 pounds in weight... but in fairness, this is just shock weightloss that doesn't particularly affect one's actual body. It's just a reduction in expendable baggage.
However, dropping carbs, does lead to a general shock to the system and I felt awful this morning. I had a headache, a tummy ache, my tinnitus was particularly strong... I was living the ACTUAL dream...
... and I was dreaming of a song I'm writing.
Another bloody song. The problem with them is that while you're working on them, they're almost all you can think about.
For some reason, I've chosen to pair some angry, intellectual invective with a rather poignant and jazzy accompaniment. Worse than that, because the song is in 4 keys (it key changes every verse) and because it's in two time signatures, and because I've hitherto, only written down the chord structure, with a couple of bits left to a later draft, I have a ghost ship of a song banging around my head with a melody that has variations in it, depending on how I remember to play it.
It was this half-finished tune that was going round in a loop in my head this morning, making me want to shut it out.
Perhaps it should have made me want to go to the piano and play it, but nope. This was a "shut up" tune.
However, once the day got truly started, and I'd finished lying on the sofa like a beached whale, then I did go to the piano and try to map out the song.
Here's an interesting problem with my "skills" as a composer. To be honest, the best way I can understand the melody of the song is to have it as written music. I can't quite read music perfectly, but I can definitely decode it, and it can be a permanent record of which notes were in a particular song. I've cheated before and written a list of notes down as letters, knowing I can assemble them back into a timed melody in the right key... but that's not something I can do perfectly in real time, and it's not incredibly helpful if I'm going to record the song and make an accompaniment in some music software.
So my instinct and my abilities are add odds with each other; another reason for the conflict in my brain.
I want to just sit down and write the music out... I physically do not have the skills. How do time signatures look? Do you put the flat or sharp symbol before or after the note? Where does the tail go? Which rest means minim?
I can read this musical notation fine and even use it to put notes into a computer, but the moment I have to write it with a pen and paper, I'm at the writing age of my 5 year old son.
But I persisted with it and had a damned good go, because that's how you learn.
Why I've chosen to write a song in 4 keys is anyone's guess... perhaps it's because I'm a cheap musical comedian using the tricks of the trade...
That said, I've never heard a comedy song in this idiom before, so maybe I'm just doing my thing.
Friday, May 22
Fat Fat Fatty Fatty Fat Fat
If I hit 18 stone, I should buy myself an expensive Fender Stratocaster... FATOCASTER more like!
Now, I've hit that weight before... mainly on the way up. Arguably, I must have hit it an odd number of times - approximately the same number in each directin, because to hit it on the weigh up, I must have either hit it on the way down, or been under it to start with - something that's definitely been the case before.
I was about to write wistfully about the time in my life where I'd never exceeded 18 stone, but I don't think it's appropriate.
I'm pretty sure that I once found I was 16 and a half stone and was shocked into crash dieting, but I was younger, less experienced, had no idea that I could be attractive and fun, and squandered such youthful folly in a series of darkened rooms.
The darkened rooms of my older age are much better. They come with better facilities, more screens, and a more comfortable savings account.
They also come with fears for the future, a deep complex relationship with the tax man and my accountant, and a continuous sense that life would be better if there was less stuff.
It's odd. The desire to have loads, and the desire not to be burdened by it all, seem to go hand in hand. And this is both a metaphor for weight and the actual problem with weight.
My weight has been a heavy part of my life in recent years. Two years ago, weighing a little more than I do today, I was at a waypoint in a weightloss journey that began the previous year with a health scare. I lost a lot of weight while worried that I was doing so to get myself ready for an operation. Then the operation wasn't necessary. But I was healthier and happier, I did a musical, then rehearsed like crazy for another one's dance moves, managed to stay at some helpful weight equilibrium and was generally in good shape.
Since then life's had its way of tossing me about. Each dip or toss of the waves results in a weight reaction, positive or negative. The nature of the weight change isn't entirely related to whether it's a good or bad turn in my fortunes.
I changed job, and my new lifestyle caused me to gain some weight. Then I took control and lost some. Then I changed jobs again, and I got a part in a show, and steadily gained weight, despite feeling I'd be more in control of it. Then, with a job change imminent, I flicked the weightloss switch and steadily and sustainably brought the weight under control... until November last year.
Auditioning for a part I'd not even intended to audition for at first, and then getting hooked on the maybes of getting it, and doing ok in the audition process... that let me to another spike when eventually the part went to someone else. Worse than that, after many successful months (from June) of multiple dance classes a week, I was suddenly unable to do them owing to a knee injury.
Christmas last year was an eating competition - me vs my common sense.
Then January and I went to work, decided I actually couldn't quite bear to use the work kitchen to prepare healthy lunches, so just went without, and I came up with my best invention ever - losing weight by just eating briefly between 5pm and 9pm. I could largely eat what I liked, and the weight was dropping off again.
Fast forward to March and lockdown began. We self-isolated as we were under the impression it might be in our household and supplies waned a bit. I ate even less...
I broke a stone barrier I'd not broken in a while...
.. then things got easier... and I relaxed my regime... and packed weight back on.
At this point, I'd like to state without any fear of disagreeing with myself retrospectively, that eating loads of mashed avocado on sourdough toast is absolutely fantastic from the point of view of how it feels while you're doing it.
I also seemed to crave cereal.
I'm going to call this the lockdown-carb-addiction phase.
And it was a real shame. I'd been looking trimmer and feeling healthier and then things went back to binge eating.
On the up side, the local mobile fish and chip shop provided some very excellent food which me and the kids enjoyed enormously.
Something has to give, and ideally not the waistband of my trousers, or the central post of my office chair.
Before I became too much heavier, I decided to join in with my wife's "Fast 800" diet plan. It combines three things which we know to be effective for weightloss, but I'm not enjoying them and I'm planning to continue not enjoying them, while earnestly giving them a fair old crack of the whip.
It's day three and I've lost 9 pounds!
Though in fairness, they're not real pounds... but they still count!
Lockdown is an opportunity to do a bit of self-care. I know a few people who've had a more constructive experience than the one I've had... i.e. a gradual thing, rather than the awkward spike leading to a food-based lockdown.
However, black and white rules can work well for me. Let's see how long this attempt lasts!
No Fringe No Holiday No No No No No
I don't know why I was slow in trying to arrange our trip to the Fringe this year. I'm usually champing at the bit. It's probably something to do with the fact that the cat was dying in February and I didn't quite get around to turning the conversation with my parents, when they visited, around to plans for August, as my mind was on other places, and I generally don't like to steer the conversation around to big favours.
That we're not visiting the Fringe has nothing to do with poor Spax the cat losing his short fight against cancer... I say short fight - he probably had it ages, but he was under treatment for a short time. Poor thing.
It soon became apparent in March that we were facing a real risk of the Fringe either being cancelled, or being a risky place to visit given the pandemic. After a few weeks of vacillations, the Fringe Society cancelled this year's event and now August has a giant hole in it.
It's weird. We only really go to the Fringe for 4 days, but it's a huge feature of the year nonetheless. In recent years we've followed it up with a family holiday, which helps decompress after the turbulence of enjoying Edinburgh. It is turbulent too. The diary becomes a series of 60 minute (ish) adventures, including the show and the race to the next one. Each show has an emotional curve, and your mood gets swung around for a day and then you repeat the crazy for a few more.
I like the way we do the Fringe, but it's not the way it used to be.
As a comedian facing a life-altering period of time, one's mind is always drawn to the possibility of the hour-long show that might emerge from something... the situation, one's own imagination, the availability of spare time that's suddenly been enforced on you.
So will I be back at the Fringe next year with an hour long show?
Probably not... but maybe the planning for the long return to the Fringe may start.
Next August, the kids will be 6 & 8. There's a high chance that we could take them to the Fringe and entertain them there... but making child care/entertainment work AND seeing/doing the sorts of shows we did before they were born is a big old ask.
I'm racing towards 50 years old... (next Fringe I'll be 47)... how long could I reasonably expect to charge around the city of Edinburgh with the sort of energy I had back in the day.
Some of this comes back to my long-term bizarre relationship between my weight, stand-up, and Edinburgh.
The worse my weight, the harder Edinburgh is to blast around, yet I always have a special burst of energy when I hit the Fringe... yet Edinburgh has, in the past, poisoned me with its plethora of unhealthy eating options. Yet Edinburgh has also acted as my annual exercise and diet plan. Weird.
Stand-up has been a good place to explore my feelings around weightloss, yet the late night driving and eating of the stand-up comedy circuit have been quite toxic for my health.
If I look back to last year's trip to Edinburgh, I was in a great place weight-wise and Edinburgh proved it. I'd packed on quite a bit of weight in the first half of the year, despite my desire to use an introduction to a dance-based fitness class, and a part in The Producers as my excuse to get fitter... in the end I regressed to stupid eating and gained weight... but the end of The Producers was like a switch being flicked.
I blasted harder than ever at my eating and exercise, doing multiple classes per week, doing building projects at home (two sheds!) and I lost a fantastic amount of weight in a short period and was genuinely more nimble.
We hit Edinburgh and I left my wife in the dust as we blasted up hills... Which is not very polite. She was, I think, amazed that I was being so energetic.
It's out of character.
These things come and go though... post Fringe, though the diet regime held for a bit, other things clouded the sky, health-wise.
This is what happens when you head into middle age. It just gets harder.
So, I find myself wondering how well the leisure industry will bounce back after this pandemic, how quickly the Fringe Society and other organisations will recover, given this year's aborted attempt at holding the festival, how much disposable income we'll really have in a year's time, and whether my aging bones will have it in them to do one of my favourite things.
Time will definitely tell.
As negative and conflicted as this all may sound, I'm looking forward to finding out what time does tell, and I'm not going to give up easily on the Scottish August silly season.
Where's my New Microphone?
That I have bought a new microphone is not a personal first. I own several microphones, though this new one will be the most expensive one I've ever bought. The question to ask is "Why now?".
I've been using GarageBand on my MacBook more than usual. I bought the MacBook about 3 years ago to be able to do this, but hadn't touched GarageBand at all until a few weeks back. So, again, why now?
I have been writing more songs than normal for the first time in many many years. The last time I was this prolific was because I had an hour-long show to fill... now I don't.
So why now?
I mean, the answer is obvious. This is not the story of a man and his microphone. This is the sort of thing that happens when the world is turned upside down and locked down.
For the sake of emptying my mind of this stuff, and creating a record that I'll look back on and perhaps even laugh at (who knows what lies the future will make of the following), here's where we're at.
Current day job: IT - in a contract role that I'm still managing to hold down, despite disruptions from the UK tax regulations, a huge disruption to the aviation industry owing to a global pandemic, and varying degrees of challenges owing to home working. On the whole, I've worked consistently and hard throughout and done some good software engineering.
Current other day job: still editing for Baeldung.com, for which I have spurts of effort and periods of nothing to do, or so much to do that I can't imagine how to start it. I'm presently on top of the pile of things to do.
Stand-up comedy: somewhat on hiatus as the leisure sector has imploded/stalled. I've been on the circuit for years, and have some regular haunts. If the truth were laid out plainly, I've not "broken through". It still seems a struggle to be taken seriously, and I constantly say to me that I'll be appreciated more once I've written some new material... which I don't actually get around to writing.
Family: (probably should have put them first... but this is a solipstistic blether about me, so they'll have to forgive me for not doing that) doing well. The kids are generally positive about their home schooling regime. My wife is a hero, and she's getting increasingly better at all the things she has to juggle to make things work in these challenging times. We have some great moments, but life is significantly weird.
Health: now that's where it's complex. I'm more healthy than most. I'm not dying (any more than anyone else), but I feel like I could have been in a better position than I am now.
I'll whack dieting concerns into another post.
If I take a quick mile high view of where I'm at right now, it's "doing ok". Everything is basically under control. We have supplies of things we need, especially coffee and soda stream gas. Everyone's still friends, we have a routine that gets us through the week, and there's talk of the school reopening for my son on 1st June, which, if it's safe to do so, will benefit him more than staying at home.
Trying to stay focused and on top of things in these circumstances is a challenge, but we're doing it.
Wednesday, May 6
Before I go into what I think I got right with the Lockdown song, it's probably worth looking at some stuff I got wrong.
The vocal take isn't good enough. There are notes missed, breaths not taken, and the phrasing's not great. However, it does manage to convey the words accurately and tells the story ok.
The video has a few glitches in it. The scene with the goats is too long and loses some context as it should really appear inside a YouTube frame - perhaps zooming out to show it was a YouTube cut... though how to do that in the video editor, who knows?
There may be a couple of dodgy lyrics in there too... trying to get officers to rhyme with scissors makes the joke work, but it should be O-fficer, not o-FI-cert...
The point is that there's always room to say why something's imperfect, and something that could have been done better. However, overall, I'm really happy with the video and song when put together. I'd like to put a few notes together on how this might not have ended up as good, but did result in something I'm proud of because of some decent decisions that happened along the way. I'm not sure they were entirely by design.
A quick lesson on how the song came about. I had the idea for a song about lockdown based on downtown because they're simply the same sounding word. I've enjoyed Tony Hatch's music over the years anyway; closer scrutiny of the song reminded me how brilliantly ironic it is that the original song is about going downtown, the opposite of the state we're in.
I wrote a couple of verses, and found it an interesting challenge, owing to the fairly complex original rhyme scheme and lyrical structure. I got something I quite liked. That was started on April 21st. I tweaked it a little. On 28th I wrote the last verse. I stood in the garage and recorded the vocal a day or so later. The video was filmed on 2nd May, though I'd recorded a snippet down the side of the house a day or so before. The process from idea to complete video was a couple of weeks.
When I write a parody song, which I've not done a lot of before, but have been doing a lot recently, I often review a performance of the original, or the original lyrics, putting them side-by-side with the lyric I'm writing to get it to scan. This feels like writing to a formula... there must be some good creative moments/decisions to make it live, and I think it here that this song jumped off the page.
Before I go on about the things I think I did, I should point out that this was a case of walking in beautifully crafted footsteps of greater writers/performers. The original song is a work of art. It must surely have done a lot of the work for me... but I also did some work. I remember doing it.
The Third Verse
The rule with comedy songs is get out before they get bored. Try to avoid instrumentals. Try to avoid repetition. Don't overstay one's welcome.
The original draft got to the line "While goats invade the centre of town" and I thought it had peaked. There's a key change and instrumental break. Stop here. Point made. Or so I thougt.
However, as writing challenges go, finding new words to fit the awkward structure was like a drug and I thought I'd have another go. All the initial more obvious ideas were now used up. They weren't bad ideas, they were just predictable.
Creating with constraints is good for you. You end up finding something new. I couldn't repeat what I'd said before. I had to dig deeper into my personal experience. I had to find funny counterparts for them. In the case of Disinfect the post/Hide in the curtains and pretend you're a ghost, one of these was something we were essentially doing - a damning summary of daily life treating the post as dangerous. The other was me coming up with a funny image that rhymed... I'm so glad I did.
The last verse is my favourite and it could so not have happened.
Trying it out on my Wife
I've been somewhat reluctant to try my hilarious comedy ideas out at home, since often what's funny to an audience is awkward in person. However, I read through the song to my wife and it made us both laugh. This gave me the mood for what I wanted to reach in the edits and the last verse. I had the perfect audience. If my wife, who can see through me, finds the material funny, then it's probably very funny. Another constraint to the writing process.
You should write comedy to make yourself laugh. I laugh most at my own stuff when it causes laughter, or when I can't believe I'm about to say/sing it.
It took a few takes to be able to sing the hide in the curtains line without cracking.
Filming on a Glorious Day
The nicest thing about the video is that it was filmed on a blue sky day with green fields. I was taking the kids for a walk. I tried getting my daughter to film me, but it didn't quite work. I did a couple of quick selfies to the camera and took some texture shots.
I must surely have mined the book of film student cliches with the spinning round bit... but it was fun and it looks good. It's obvious that the two verses are selfies, but the change in camera angle was a good idea as it makes it look more well though out than it was.
I performed the first lines of the song without any backing track.. just from my memory of the rhythm of the song. It ties in remarkably well.
Discovering the magic of Lip Sync
Once I discovered that my attempt to record without an backing track to mime to actually worked, I got bolder about what else I could possibly achieve by miming and shuffling the footage into the right position to sync.
It seems that the brain is remarkably forgiving of lip sync in videos and you just need to drag a clip to the right sort of place and suddenly it lives!
When my friend recorded a video to another song we made, without the final backing track, I was similarly surprised at the lip sync of the end result. This time, I was editing and I soon discovered how little I need to rely on making a video take of the actual track recording... not that I'll stop doing that. It's fun to see the video of the actual take you're hearing - if that's an important thing in the presentation of the song.
The Netflix bit of the song came out well with the above technique. I built a video with the Netflix background and a frame of me singing - I then played that on our TV and filmed that with a moving shot, knowing it would all tie together in the edit.
Trusting lip sync gave us some of our best shots.
Listening to my Wife's Ideas during Filming
I had an idea for each of the shots, but it wasn't set in stone. I didn't get too precious about the ideas and gave my wife the camera to try stuff with. I say camera. It was an iPhone.
An an example, thought it was my idea to go up in the loft, it was her who put the ladder up after me and then made me slam the loft hatch shut up there... a shot that made us and the kids laugh when we watched it back.
You've got to admire someone who agrees to set fire to envelopes over the sink in the name of art.
Trying to Finish It
It could have stalled and never really finished. I have a video in that state; there's some photography done, and some graphics, but loads more to do on top.
In this case, the self-imposed pressure to get it out on YouTube on the day of the main photography forced us to come up with passable and in many cases, spontaneously funny clips.
Using a Karaoke Track
It's kind of an admission of failure that I couldn't create my own backing... but there was a really rather good one I could just import. Build/buy... it's a no brainer here.
I would have had more things to worry about, preventing me from getting anyway, if I'd decided to make my own backing. The one I chose gave the end result a much more professional feel.
Editing it down to the minimum
There's a cut in the backing track I chose. It means the song goes a bit faster and there's less fill between the first and second halves around the keychange.
As a rule, never use the whole song without slicing bits out unless it's perfect.
Thinking about the Words for the Video
A video is a chance to do an act out, so each scene was a mini 3-4 second visual gag opportunity. This is a great way to make the material deeper.
Subtitling the Video Early
The subtitles ended up acting as signposts on the video editor about where we were in the video, much easier to use than the on-screen action.
I think I do a reasonable job of subtitling, trying to get the subtitle up at the point which is both funniest and in time with the music; sometimes they coincide, sometimes not.
Often the subtitle boundaries were also the perfect edit boundaries to switch between shots... it worked really well.
Building the Video Before Shooting was Complete
By putting the structure of the video together, we could dry run the shooting we'd done in context quickly, and get a sense of progress with the whole thing. It motivated us to finish it, and gave us ideas about pacing.
To be honest, the whole thing was slapped together without too much thought or planning, but that was made possible by the scaffolding of the existing shots, roughly edited on the timeline with subtitles and the backing track. It guided us to completion awfully well.
Making Static Shots move in Post
There were a couple of shots which didn't move when we filmed them. The pan across Netflix stopped, and a view over my shoulder of me watching a video had a moving video, but the shot was still.
I noticed that this sapped a little energy, so I made them zoom in, during editing... this kept the shot interesting, especially since the attention span we'd set up with previous shots was about 3 seconds.
I learned a lot doing this. I think the above went well... I look forward to future videos.
Overall, this is a silly three minute video, but it surprises me how rapidly it runs through, and how much fun it is to rewatch. It was worth the microscopic adjustments and hearing my own voice on a loop for a day.
Let's see if I do any more.
Tuesday, May 5
So, the world's gone mad...
This blog doesn't get much attention; usually I write an annual post-Fringe-visit review of why I like going to the Fringe and forget that I used to be an avid blogger, with myriad self-interested posts about my life.
I'm still a blogger, but not on this platform. I write technical blog posts and edit for another technical blog. It somewhat saps the creative juices to be doing it all over the place, so this blog has somewhat been neglected. It's unlikely I'll resurrect it in any meaningful way, but there are things to be said at the moment.
Now's a good time to write a few notes about life in lockdown.
Perhaps I'll take to writing a self-interested, mewling, post about how weird it is to be shut in the house for about 6 weeks with no sign of the world going back to any semblance of normal. This is not that post.
In fact, this isn't even the post I came to this platform to write.
I want to say something in this post. I made something. In fact, I made a few things.
I've even just committed to buying more kit so I can make more things in the future. Why not, eh? Now's the perfect time to devote time to doing things that I've put off.
I have released a couple of comedy albums online. They were home recordings to support the two major Edinburgh shows I did myself. Back in 2004, we recorded the album of our show The Musical!, released on CD (spoilers, it didn't sound great, because I'm a terrible sound engineer). However, it was better than not releasing one.
I've intended to do something much more sophisticated with home recording since. There have been occasional tracks, but nothing serious.
In the last few weeks, I've recorded the following songs:
I also wrote a Covid 19 song about having a new great fire of London (not especially good, but it was a bit of fun).
Given that my previous output was basically nearly zero, with one new song written a year ago, performed to an iPhone, rather than recorded properly, this is quite a change in my circumstances.
I've also quickly learned the ropes with video editing, having bought Movavi to enable me to make the Only One Song video, for which I wanted a montage of the performances of the actual takes that went into the video.
More importantly, I've started using GarageBand. In 2020. I bought my Mac in late 2017 with the aim of getting into GarageBand. I then installed Windows on it (dual boot, I'm not a monster) and used Mixcraft, which I'm more familiar with... I even upgraded Mixcraft rather than use GarageBand.
I'm an idiot.
I'm now a GarageBand user... though I can imagine upgrading to something more sophisticated if I keep up the output.
I'm also committed to solving my vocals recording issue, some of which I think comes down to not understanding the dilemma of gain, proximity, and apparent loudness before compression... nobody cares but me, but that's not the point. I'm trying to perfect a craft here, and that's fun.
I just bought a new microphone and other associated bits for better recording. All of this is great fun...
The lesson here is not to neglect one's craft. It shouldn't take a lockdown to teach that, but learning the lesson counts regardless of how it's taught.
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