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Friday, October 13

Manchester Is Not Near

I haven't done a long-distance gig in quite some time and I'd forgotten exactly how much effort it is to drive around 500 miles in an evening, hoping to be at a gig on time at the start, and in bed before dawn at the end. Though I may be out of practice doing that sort of thing, most recent gigs having been significantly more local, I still managed to make the most of my largely car-bound experience.

On the way out to the gig, the traffic wasn't so good, but I had four episodes of the original Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy to keep my company. Then I listened to Radio 4, who were running their comedy programme - Genius - which is one of their better offerings. After that I amused myself with Tim Minchin's "Dark Side" recording, which was still playing when I arrived at the venue. It was about 4 hours between the office and the venue, though I'd managed to cram in a pit-stop (piss stop?) at Stafford services, and a call home to find out the news on the house that's currently sitting at number one in our hit parade. So far, nothing else has charted.

I'd arrived about 15 minutes before the show was due to start and so I cracked on with the sound check. I played this gig a year previously and their sound system was the same. Last time, it was luck that I happened to have a ton of useful equipment with me. This time, my bag of tricks was loaded up especially for the job, and we soon had my guitar sounding sweet. Probably better than last time.

Just as I was completing the sound check, I got a call from a fellow comedian. I didn't know who else was playing the gig, but it turned out that he was the headliner and he was in the building (ringing to find out where I was - clearly he'd not heard me playing my guitar really loudly in the next room to where he was sitting). My plans to leave the gig as soon as I was done evaporated. This guy had run a weekly gig in Newcastle, which I'd attended for about a year (on and off) and watched his material expand. I'd even given him a couple of jokes (not that he needed me as a writer - it's just that these things happened to suit him). I was really pleased to be doing a gig with someone whose path I hadn't crossed since my Newcastle days and whose stuff I always enjoyed.

Oh dear, I'm starting to sound all lovey. Still, I was pleased. Live with it.

As always happens when I rush to a gig, things kicked off later than planned. The audience were not ones for rushing. The MC was very good, but quite low-paced (on purpose) squeezing merriment out of the crowd without any hurry. If he hadn't been so effective at riffing and getting absorbing the audience's silences and replacing them with good humour and charm, I might have been unimpressed. As it was, I thought he did a cracking job, but I got onto the stage after what seemed like a long amorphous warm up. The crowd were not exceedingly easy (this was down to the sort of people and the size of the room, more than anything else) but I waded through my set with alacrity and balanced my insecurity about how well it was going against my genuine enjoyment of the opportunity to do what I do to an audience.

The reaction I got was odd. Sometimes they felt quite ambivalent, and sometimes I got applause breaks for the slightest of jokes - mid song once. I always feel that an applause at the end of a song is not worth being smug about. It's just convention. An applause break that includes whooping and is very long after a song, is possibly more earned. Applause that starts as the song is on its last note, is a genuine "we really want to applaud now, so we're just going for it" and an applause within a song is the best - it's like a damp apologetic puppy - "Sorry, I just couldn't wait".

As I said, they did some of the applause stuff, but then they also gave me the "a-hur" low laugh for some of my lines and also the completely-silent treatment to other bits. This was a very young audience of largely unworldly 18 year olds who wanted to have a good time, but were afraid to let go too much lest they look stupid. So, this sort of reaction is to be expected. As I remember, it was similarly difficult to keep momentum last time I did the gig, and the room was fuller last time. However, any worries I had about whether I'd given a good account of myself are irrelevant. As Rafiki from the Lion King might say "It's in the past". More importantly, though I know that I went into autopilot a couple of times, rather than doing bits of the set "for real", the recording of the gig I listened to on the way home shows a fairly well timed and paced set. It sounded better than it felt at the time.

The middle acts had their work cut out and fared in some ways well and in some ways not so well. That's for them to decide.

My ex-Newcastle-co-patriate did very well indeed. He went from planning to do a tight 20 minute set to playing out a solid 30. He has some newer material which is lovely and he's always good to watch. I foolishly didn't work out how get my mobile phone recording a bit of his material that my girlfriend likes and which we sometimes repeat among ourselves - I'm sure she'd have like that... but it didn't happen. Never mind. It's in the past!

I was quickly paid, packed and headed for the car. It was, however, nearly 10 minutes before I left the car park. I had a car parked either side of mine and another was behind (perpendicular to mine and about a car's width away). In the end, one of the security people, seeing me backing and forwarding almost pointlessly in and out of my space, came and saw me out. I cannot just where the back of my car is. I usually get it wrong by about 18 inches (worth of air), and I didn't want to end up making holes in other cars as I tried to make a sharp exit from Salford (always advisable to leave Salford, by the way). With Security man's help, I was away.

The return journey, with the aid of my sat-nav, now seemingly recovered from its recent trip to completely-knackereds-ville, could be measured in miles, or time, but I measured it in listening pleasure. First I had the 20 minutes of my set. Then, I listened to the rest of Tim Minchin's Dark Side. This gave me a taste for Australian comedy, so I switched to Jim Jeffries, who was, quite simply, stunning. I've only seen him live a couple of times. The latter time was in Edinburgh this year and he was top notch. This CD was bought outside his show and is full of some classics. No matter the subject, he'll be surprisingly funny, obnoxious and charming all in one go. His "Steve Irwin/Alf Stewart Gay Sex" routine is as fitting a tribute to Steve Irwin as any of the other more saccharine affairs you might have seen over the last few weeks. I laughed hard.

Bill Bailey still remains one of my all-time favourite comedians, so his Part Troll recording was the final leg of my journey back home. I was impressed that the time passed so quickly, the fog wasn't too bad, the batteries of my MP3 player lasted and I got back home, after a refuelling stop, around about the same time as I'd fallen asleep, after watching Lost, the previous evening.

The cat tried to escape when I entered the house, but I blocked her exit. She later came to sit on my chest and purr. She's very forgiving.


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