May 31, 2014

"But you made the quiches yourself": becoming a better stage performer


The stage lights burning the back of my eyes. The solitary microphone and the stares from the audience. And the sudden and lurching gap in my memory.

I remember my only attempt at stand-up comedy well: I died on my backside: a brutal failure. The years have not diminished my shock at the experience.

The next time I took to the stage was for Bright Club with a comedy lecture called Gospel According To Aphex Twin. It wasn't stand-up but I played it for laughs and I shook like a leaf. Four years later and, for the first time ever earlier this week, I had a "performer moment". A moment where I wasn't just on a stage reading funny stuff, but I used a learned technique to elicit a response from an audience. Like a Performer, capital P.


The moment happened as I compered Bad Language. A couple of open mic acts hadn't turned up, and at one point there was a risk that it could have derailed the night. I needed to make light of the situation on stage, so I used a stupid metaphor, explained slowly with the best deadpan I could manage. I likened the no-shows to me making five quiches for a dinner party, with only four guests turning up, leaving me to eat the final broccoli-filled quiche even though I hated broccoli.

And then came a friendly heckle. "But you made the quiches yourself."


"But you made the quiches yourself."

The heckler shot my metaphor down with brilliantly-timed wit. I couldn't fight the logic. Why would I make a quiche I hated the taste of?


Something clicked. For the first time, I could use a heckle to gain a bigger laugh. I feigned a dawning realisation at the audience member's insight, and while I acted this out, my mind wrote a punchline. The punchline went something like: "This is what my life has come to: me making quiches I hate for people that don't exist."

As I spoke the punchline, keeping my timing regular and my voice steady, my brain went into planning mode again. I decided that after the word "exist", I should turn from the microphone. A visual full stop to land the phrase with a decisive thunk. It worked. People laughed.

It was only a small moment, and by writing all this out, I am probably overplaying it. I'm also not trying to tell you how hilarious I am. The point is this: what struck me about that moment was I could multi-task my little brain gremlins to enable me to plan mid-performance. I'd not done that before. I felt like a stand-up.


The heckler apologised afterwards, but he didn't need to. I thanked him for making it funnier than it ever could have been.

I guess the moral is that performance skill can be learned, that's probably worth trusting the moment, that a strong-enough stage presence can withstand almost anything.

There are many stage performers better than me. But sometimes it's nice to look back and see how far you've come - because the energy I still get from that long-past stand-up failure still drives me to be a better performer today.

May 30, 2014

Glock/Ver10?* Bearded knob twiddler's cover Aphex Twin's Windowlicker

Chug this down your YouTube neck. Here's one-take cover artist Binkbeats with his version of Aphex Twin's Windowlicker. It's a brave attempt, and not many people would survive this with their brain intact.

Brought to the internetwebhole by the ever-reliable Boiler Room.

* a glockenspeil pun on Aphex's Cock/Ver10 even though I'm pretty sure it's a xylophone.

Further Fats: The devil has all the best IDM: Aphex Twin (2010)

May 26, 2014

Finding healthy pop wheat amid the pop forest fire of, um, doom


The plan: find something positive to say about the charts. Music that may be derivative but it's done in a nice way and doesn't carry the baggage of a mysogynistic or gun-addled video.

The result: quite difficult. I think Coldplay's new electronic direction is welcome, but I'm never going to post something by them because it's still like listening to a squeezed dishcloth. And the chart is full of older stuff, like Duke Dumont and Avicii in the mid-range and the likes of Busted and Shaggy near the bottom.

I found four. There's a decent Lana Del Ray remix knocking about somewhere, but I couldn't spot it on YouTube. So...


- Kiesza's Hideaway, a snappy 90s house track with some proper Strings of Life synth stabs bubbling under the surface;

- Route 94's My Love, a hypnotic house meditation with choppy pianos and a gorgeous arpeggio throughout, let down by a poor video;

- Klangkarussell's Sonnentanz, with its filtered synth motif, layered vocals and sax parps that are so crap they're probably good;

- Clean Bandit's Extraordinary, a band that used to me more interesting, but this fluff has some nicely executed production. Only just made the list.

May 7, 2014

My start with Bad Language: always blame the monsters

The beginning of 2014 seems like a different year. Time is fragmented. Broken. You know when you drop your diary and all the dates get mixed up because your diary is possessed by a mischievous poltergeist that can manipulate text? That.

When I took on the co-running of Bad Language, Manchester's live literature night, I expected it would be a bit like being hit by a train. I was wrong. It was like being approached from behind by a scaly time-stealing monster and mauled to death. In a good way. I've tried to replicate this experience in picture form (above).

So far, I have hosted two Bad Languages, with authors Stephen May and Luke Brown headlining. If you want to see me shake my stuff, then come along to the Portico on Thursday May 15th for a very special night of readings. We'll have Rosie Garland, Jo Bell, Rodge Glass and Marli Roode. The next regular Bad Language will be on May 28th. Thank pants I'm not doing this on my own - Joe Daly should take at least 54.6% of the credit.

Much of my time is spent planning events. Speculative meetings, meetings that go nowhere, meetings that burst with promise. Watch this space.

Not enough time is spent updating this website. Better get to it. To be honest, I'd ask the time-stealing monster to do it, but its spelling is atrocious.

Incidentally, for those more musically-inclined, I've been listening to Hardfloor, Legowelt and Mixmaster Morris.