Aug 27, 2017

Fats at the Lowry: my last day at the Edinburgh Fringe

I probably should tie off these Edinburgh Fringe witterings with a nice big bow.

On the last day attending shows at the Fringe, I saw Sofie Hagen. She was really good, with plenty of warnings about the power of men in family units. I then popped off to see 'Parsley', which was by Michael Brunström and it was all about parsley. He even had someone making parsley sauce.

I decided to end my Fringe experience with Transit, a big ole circus performance with lots of people jumping about. You'd think I'd find no inspiration for my own show here, but even that had structure and audience interaction and oodles of light and shade. After 20 shows in three days (technically three days and four hours), I became an expert in picking apart the building blocks of the stuff I was seeing.

Performance elements I liked throughout my time in Edinburgh:

> Unpredictability. Brian Gittins's volatility on a double decker bus as he allowed the audience to almost ruin the show is something that will stay with me for a long time.

> Failure. It was okay if things went wrong. Some phone responses during Siri seemed to misfire, and the balloon-throwing finale at Tape Face missed a beat because the 'victim' didn't follow his instructions. Indeed, the circus performers made mistakes. Doesn't matter. The ideas still worked.

> Generosity. From John Luke Roberts' ramshackle props to Joe Morpurgo's frenzied hijacking of his audience, my favourite moments were when the performer seemed to give abundantly to the audience. The ideas and jokes came quickly.

And things that turned me off:

> Just watching. I was less keen on performances that seemed a static, in which we were only onlookers. It wasn't so bad, though, if there were interesting things to look at - or if the performer(s) was a powerhouse.

> Laziness. By this, I mean, ideas that weren't explored enough. Bolting a theme onto already-written routines, or ideas that didn't go far enough. Wasted opportunities. Not that there was much of this - overall, I'm very happy with the shows I chose to attend this year.

I've been back from Edinburgh for a couple of days. I've been in a bit of a comedown funk, which is probably natural. I've had the Will Smith single 'Wild Wild West' going around my head. Which, as I commented on a friend's Facebook feed, is a tragedy. This is the curse of Will Smith. Despite 'Men In Black', 'Summertime', 'Miami', 'Boom Shake The Room', Gettin' Jiggy Wit It' AND the Fresh Prince theme, his weakest hit 'Wild Wild West' will always be the one that sticks.

Poor guy.

This is the kind of thing I dwell on when I'm on a Fringe comedown.

This Edinburgh Fringe trip was an attempt to gain inspiration for my new show for The Lowry, which will premiere in May. Read more about all that here.

Aug 24, 2017

Fats at the Lowry: meeting a dog at the Edinburgh Fringe

I came to the Edinburgh Fringe to chug Windowlene and get inspired. And I'm fresh out of Windowlene.

Today got me fired up about my own show. I saw seven things and they were all great. Well. Sort of. Anyhoo, it led me to a conclusion about my planning process, which I shall share at the end of this blog post.

I caught a bunch of stand-up comedians. Tony Law was in typical free-wheeling mode with added shadow puppetry... which was also free-wheeling. With this being Tony, the puppetry didn't really need to lead anywhere. It was just fun to watch.

Speaking of not particularly leading anywhere, Simon Munnery's on form this year. 'Renegade Plumber' made me want to central heat my tent. I even got to meet his dog (pictured). Like me, Munnery has props, and he isn't afraid to furrow a particular niche thought, such as his long technical explanation about inventing a new water heater.

I caught Richard Gadd's show during which he runs. A lot. On a running machine. This was a frenetic, dizzying work with a solid emotional payoff. He got a standing ovation. The audio track must have been huge fun to work on - and hugely time consuming. I don't think I'll run in my own show. I'll be doing well if I even stay standing upright.

I've seen some amazing comedy this year, but Brian Gittins had me laughing the most. His show was on the BlundaBus, brought to the Fringe by quickly-expanding newcomer promoter Heroes. Brian was, in short, terrifying. Okay, we were packed in on the top floor of a double-decker bus, but this truly was close-up comedy. Volatile, awkward, and superbly silly.

If Brian Gittins isn't winning the big comedy awards, the system's knacked.

And now non-comedy stuff. I saw a show about Siri. I've never used Siri. Did everyone's phones become sentient? Not quite. Siri, a one-woman and one-digital assistant show, was a compelling tech nightmare that felt very real. Too real. She had two projection screens - one translucent, leading to a deeply sinister big-face moment.

I saw a mind-reading show, which was great fun, but I could have explained everything that happened in the room. Especially as I saw the mind-reader asking the audience questions before the show. "Your name's Sally Smith and you were born on 31st October." The audience goes "wooo". Yeah. He, in disguise, asked her. She was next to me in the queue. Pah.

Luke Wrights Frankie Vah was an accomplishment. Effectively, it's a one-hour poem disguised as theatre. The narrative was bound in 1980s left wing politics, with all the frustration, fire and fury that entailed. At one point he acted out someone performing at their first open mic night - whimpers of recognition from me.

What else? Puppetry, plumbing, running, bus, big-face, fakery and fire. I think that's it. Enough for one day.

I've had numerous thoughts about my own show today. I need to work harder. I need to be better. I need to match my game with all the amazing people I've seen. But most of all, I'm left with one over-riding thought:

There are no rules. I've seen naked Chaucer, a fake Q&A, a tape-faced man, a treadmill tragedy and I've thrown raisins into Brian Gittins' face. There are simply no rules. Just do what works for you.

I'd imagine that's Simon Munnery's dog's mantra for life too.

I've more Fringe to go, but I'm taking it easier today. I may catch one show. Maybe three. To be honest, I'm now desperate to return home and do show writing. Stay tuned.

(This blog post is dedicated to Domino, the wonderful woof-dog who is my boarding companion during my stay in Edinburgh. Hello, Domino, if you're reading.)

Aug 23, 2017

Fats at the Lowry: Morpurgo's done it again

I'm farting about at the Edinburgh Fringe, but it's not entirely for pleasure. I'm on the look out for inspiration, information and even the occasional omen for my next show. These blog posts are acting as a virtual think board as I traipse around Scotland's streets.

I started today with some proper theatre: 'Action At A Distance' was a play about a data analyst and a plumber betting on terrible things. They took drone strikes, cancer and financial desperation - all the fun things (!) - and filled the hour with humanity and levity.

Despite the horrific subject matter, the harshest brutality was in the acidic mother / daughter relationship: a volley of verbal drone strikes. It reminded me that human stories resonate most strongly, especially in a domestic environment - home is where the hurt is. Oh and they drew on the floor, which gave me ideas.

I then saw a standup show and an improv show. Both shall remain nameless because this is not a review and being negative isn't the point.

The standup show had a clever gimmick which made me buy the ticket: in reality, it was a straight-down-the-line observational comedy set with the gimmick tacked on. If only it had been braver.

I've not seen much improv, but the improv show left me a little annoyed. When I've seen Paul Merton do improv, he grabs a lot of ideas from the audience. We're given the sense of driving what happens on stage. With today's show, they did this once at the start: we chose a word that had little consequence to the actions on stage. And then they acted for an hour. Was the whole thing improvised or was it just a badly written play? With no further input from us, it was hard to feel invested.

Lesson: involve the audience.

'Dust' was great. It's a play by Milly Thomas in which a woman observes the aftermath of her own suicide. The stage set was entirely colourless, a brutal purgatory allowing space for metaphorical and literal self-examination. The sound design was immense, with crackles and rumbles of doom providing contrast to melodic moments of emotion later on. Make a note in your audio-ideas book, Fats,

I'm running out of time. What else did I see today? Oh yes - Beach Hunks, a sketch group with the sort of chemistry that makes you want to be their mate. Also, I am their mate, so I'm biased, but 'Hog Wild' is a great show.

Tape Face! I finally saw Tape Face. This was my first BIG show of the Fringe: clearly with a budget much bigger than mine. He was astonishing: sweet, silly, surprising and with a truly spiriting finale. It reminded me that it's worth studying the old arts: clowning, mime, the jesters. And get a team around you that can absolutely nail the audio and visual cues.

Last and by all means most, I saw Joseph Morpurgo's 'Hammerhead'. I don't want to say too much, and it's best to go into the show without knowing what to expect. His 2015 show 'Soothing Sounds For Baby' remains the best thing I have seen at the Edinburgh Fringe: it became an inspirational template for the show I am writing now. When I plan through what I want to do with my show, I think of 'Soothing Sounds For Baby'.

His new show 'Hammerhead' is a staggering triumph, and if you were unlucky enough to miss 'Baby', then let THIS show be your best-thing and your template and your whatnot. My main take-away from Joe Morpurgo? There are no rules. There simply are no rules. Just do what you love.

Now that Morpurgo's nailed it again, I might as well go home. But I can't. I've more things to see today. Stay tuned.

Aug 22, 2017

Fats at the Lowry: Off to the Edinburgh Fringe

I'm at the Edinburgh Fringe pouring culture down my face. I've decided to be poncy and give some kind of artistic reflection as I attend gubbins at this year's Fringe. Not reviews. Just (half) thoughts made of the mouldier bits of my brain.

I'm hoping to return from the Fringe with a vague mulch of inspiration for my #DevelopedWith commission for the Lowry. That means exiting shows and taking immediately to Twitter. What you're about to read over the next few days are those tweets mangled blog posts.

My first stop was John Luke Roberts's Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair! (All in Caps). Like many others, I returned to see Roberts following his previous show about a balloon-man monster. Yeah, I said it. A balloon-man monster.

This was one-man show with costumes and, er, non-costumes, and so well written. His Chaucer piece is perfection, every wayward syllable a joy as he acts out a kind of amphetamined Officer Crabtree. He's got super silly props (beard scroll) and very natural audience interaction: we easily come onside with him.

Boy, that lad can write. Not afraid of a corny punchline either: his confidence carries it. Lovely sense of the macabre too.

Next up was Graham Dixon Is The Narcissist, an exploration of a fictional Russian writer told through layers of personalities. It was silly but oddly heavy, which I put down not to the "Russian gulag" overtones of the subject matter but to the more theatrical set-up: raked seating, stark layout (a single chair) and unforgiving lighting. I wonder how that would feel in, say, The Stand.

Not a band thing but take out, say, half a dozen punchlines and it could be hard work. Thankfully, Dixon had some lovely monologues peppered with Pythonesque surreality, and a neat way of hurling an exercise book across the stage.

Turning my thoughts to my own show - which is what this Edinburgh trip is all about - the simplicity of his set confirmed in my mind that I'd want my show to have a lot to look at. Plenty of treats for the eyes. Throwaway visual gags everywhere.

Speaking of throwaway visual gags, I saw Sam Simmons too. Always a favourite. Far fewer props this time but plenty of delightful non-sequiturs. His badminton piece with an audience member is as good as anything he's done before. (No spoilers here, but it's so sharp and very Sam.)

Both him and Dixon played with voiceover: the extra voice as antagonist in Dixon's case or as reinforcement in Simmons' case as he takes against the audience. I liked that muchly, and is a device that is particularly useful for my show.

More to come - click here for my other Lowry prep tweeting.

Aug 19, 2017

Konx-om-Pax's new confection has me sulking about sweets

I knew this world was going to pot when I realised there were two kinds of Refreshers: the sugary discs in pastel colours and the chewy bars that take your teeth out.

You can't have two sweets with the same name. We don't have a Mars Bar that's made of sickly goo and a Mars Bar made from liquorice razor blades. There's only one type of Mars Bar, albeit in different shades. And there should only be one type of Refresher.

Not that I'm totally going to hold that against Konx-om-Pax, whose new EP Refresher is a welcome follow-up to last year's Caramel. The confectionery-consumed knob twiddler leads the EP with the cheery Cascada. Love that ploddy bass drum. Listen below.

Aug 12, 2017

Fats at the Lowry: Turning my brain clutter into spiders or something

Large pieces of paper. Back of a door. One big fat marker pen.

I've been doing spider diagrams or thought charts or brain bursts or whatever you call them. This particular mind splurge is about an imaginary record shop. And not a good one either, hence the dangerous trip hazard and tired merchandise.

This part of my planning for my 2018 show. There are other idea-splats like this, although all the words are less exciting. The central oval's not as good either. This 'record shop' one is definitely my favourite.

It's quite nice to get thoughts out like this because if I empty my brain, it doesn't rattle when I walk down the street. No-one wants a clatter-headed Fat Roland careening along a pavement, all the thoughts spilling out onto passers-by.

I'm taking a few days out to focus on show writing. Turn those thinky-maps into something more useful. Watch this back-of-a-door-sized space.

Aug 8, 2017

Listen to Bicep's Glue - it'll stick with you

I've been scribbling a bunch of reviews for Electronic Sound today, which means I've been pouring music down my ears even more than usual.

One earworm has stayed with me: Bicep's Glue. This track from their debut album Bicep is worth a listen if you like Moderat and Four Tet. It does the sad-but-happy thing really well.

I also realise I've just missed a metaphor about glue and memorable tracks sticking to you. Dammit. This happens when I write a bunch of reviews to deadline: my ability to write creatively goes completely hatstand banana.

Below Glue, listen to fellow album track Aura.

Aug 5, 2017

Brian Eno: music for infuriated garden tool instruments

Brian Eno's early solo work has been reissued on fancy vinyl. That's new 45rpm remasters of Another Green World, Here Come The Warm Jets, Before And After Science and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). I call them Anothaftermountjets for short.

These albums came out shortly after I was born, and although I've heard dribbles of them over the years, it's been interesting to dive into them properly for the first time. Listening to the whole lot, in order. It's definitely the sound of Eno transitioning from Roxy Music into something much wibbly woo. That's a technical music term, by the way.

Also, Another Green World is an anagram of 'angered trowel horn'.

It's a strange feeling to step into Bowie-era Eno. When everyone had hair like the standup comedian Paul Foot.

You can read my review of the reissues in Electronic Sound magazine. If you end up subscribing to the magazine because of this, tweet them at @ElectronicMagUK with the hashtag #angeredtrowelhorn.

Aug 1, 2017

Ten things that make life 3% better

In an effort to stop and smell the proverbial roses once in a while, here are ten things I have appreciated recently.

> The start of a new month - even just a week - and the potential that hovers impossibly in the air;

> Friendly and slightly drunk crowds appreciating my panda stories at Kendal Calling;

> Eric Morecambe pretending that the person behind has just goosed him, time after time;

> The sheen on Selected Ambient Works 85-92 that sticks to your brain long after the music has gone;

> Seeing Paul Foot on the back of a truck, realising he was arriving for a gig, going to see the gig, Paul Foot being brilliant;

> The hundreds of extra blog hits from Ukraine the other day, even though it was probably just a bot... hi, Ukraine!;

> Redrawing some of my performance stuff; including secret pockets to make on-stage handling easier;

> The spiky eccentricity of Die Antwoord: I want to be them but also definitely never want to be them, all at the same time;

> Staying off Facebook because it's a time and mood drain;

> Long conversations with friends. Wait. I can't end on this, it's too soppy. Er... The gas station scene in It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. That'll do.