Carden’s DLCF Experience part 3

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The third and final week of my Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival experience began with probably my favourite comedian, Josie Long at the Y Theatre. I have watched Josie’s ‘Trying is Good’ DVD, which also contains her ‘Kindness and Exuberance’ show, and I have seen her ‘Romance and Adventure’ show which she put on Youtube but nothing could prepare me for just how wonderful she is live. Her ‘Cara Josephine’ show has received really good reviews and deservedly so. It is such a hysterically funny, heartbreaking and uplifting show that it is easily the best thing I’ve seen at this year’s festival. I find Josie’s work so inspiring and her positive attitude so refreshing that it encourages me to work harder on my creative ‘stuff’.

Support act for Josie was Tom Allen who I had seen last year supporting Sarah Millican. His set was of a really good length so he could engage properly with the audience and his material had some really thoughtful moments as well as being hysterically funny.

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Mr B kindly posed for a photo for me. What a gent.

I have been following the career of Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer for some time but this year was the first opportunity I’ve had to see him live. In a nutshell, he dresses and speaks like an English gentleman and performs hip hop on the banjolele. His mission is to reconnect hip hop with the Queen’s English and he performs wonderful medleys of hip hop, indie and techno classics in his own unique style as well as his original songs. His lyrics are hilariously funny, his uke playing is excellent and his manipulation of a loop pedal to build up the backing for one of the songs was very clever indeed. I was lucky enough to meet the man himself after the show and he kindly allowed me to take a photo of him. I also took the opportunity of purchasing his latest CD, ‘Can’t Stop, Shan’t Stop’ which is excellent.

For my final show I was back at The Wee One in Hansom Hall to see Hal Cruttenden. He was a bit late but that might have been to do with the fact that most of the city centre had been demolished that day so trying to find a place to park among the rubble might have been awkward. Tonight Hal was doing a work in progress show but he said he was going to mix in some old stuff too. Work in progress shows are really fun but what can make them great is when a really good comedian doesn’t make them feel like a work in progress as they just become a hugely enjoyable night out and that’s how this show felt. Hal’s show was really funny and he mentioned the fact that someone had described him on Youtube as the safe comedian’s safe comedian when in fact there are a lot of darker things going on in his material. This was a great show to finish off my Leicester Comedy Festival experience for 2015.

I chose to go and see comedians I already liked so it’s not like I took chances on having a rubbish night out but I thoroughly enjoyed every show I saw and I’m already excited about next year. It’s a brilliant festival showcasing many of Leicester’s great venues from the biggest to the smallest and it must take so much organisation to pull it together every year. I feel really lucky to have this amazing annual event going on locally.

My favourite show of my experience of the festival has to be Josie Long with Tom Allen supporting, but I also really enjoyed Sarah Millican’s Q & A, Angela Barnes, Dylan Moran, Stewart Lee, Count Arthur Strong, Sara Pascoe, Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer and Hal Cruttenden.

The whole festival was a wonderful experience.

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Carden’s DLCF Experience part 2

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My second week of the Leicester Comedy Festival began with Stewart Lee’s ‘A Room with a Stew’ at De Montfort Hall. In these shows Stew is doing bits from his upcoming TV series but also seeing where the wind may blow him on the night. I’ve read Stewart Lee’s book ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate’ and I reviewed it in this blog as I thought it was brilliant and fascinating. Even having read some of the thought processes he goes through in manipulating audiences I found myself misdirected and bamboozled by the show. Some parts were hysterically funny and others seemed puzzling until he revealed what he had been leading the audience up to all along. I can see why some comedians could be considered artists whereas others are just great comedians. There is something to be said for a lovely night out with cosy, fluffy, fun jokes with perhaps a bit of pathos and a touch of darkness, which are really enjoyable and you go home happy and feel you’ve had value for money. But there are also comedians who take you on an odyssey which is by turns enjoyable, confusing, irritating but ultimately hugely rewarding as at the end you realise you’ve gone through the kind of experience you would have in really good drama. You’ve become involved, taken from where you are to somewhere where you don’t know the rules. Someone is playing with your perceptions and emotions and then you end up somewhere realising you’ve experienced something really special.
After the show I met Stewart Lee and was utterly star-struck. He was really friendly, signed the book I’d bought, and I shook his hand hoping that some of his comedy genius would rub off on me. Slim hope. But what a brilliant mind and extraordinary performer.

The following day saw me visiting Curve again, this time for Count Arthur Strong’s ‘Somebody Up There Licks Me’. Regarding his TV series I have to be honest and say that what I like best about Arthur is when he is just talking, getting tongue-tied, confusing himself and then arguing with himself, but this show is structured to include plenty of that, and also some hilarious set-pieces with his co-stars: hapless tour manager Malcolm, cabaret chanteuse Renee and hopeless tech Eggy. I thought the show was great value for money as it’s a good 90 minutes or so and features plenty of different bits to keep it rolling along, including a brilliant skit involving a monkey. I took the opportunity of getting Arthur’s memoirs from the merch stall, ‘Through It All I’ve Always Laughed’ and I look forward to enjoying the thoughts and ruminations of the great man therein.

Sara Pascoe’s show, ‘The Museum of Robot Pussycats’, took place in the Wee Room at Hansom Hall which looks from inside like a wooden-beamed tower hidden in the bowels of the building. It was a work in progress show which was not quite as advertised in the festival programme which called it a brand new show of brand new material, which is not the same thing. I enjoy work in progress shows, I just wasn’t expecting this to be one of them. However, none of this is Sara Pascoe’s fault and her show was very funny and I’m not going to give away why the show is named as it is. She is certainly a comedian whose unique imagination is one I’m happy to travel along with as she weaves her stories and jokes together through a very enjoyable hour. She makes her audience interaction look effortless with a good spirit and winning charisma. I don’t quite know what the people who came in four minutes before the end were thinking but they missed a really terrific show.

The festival has been brilliant so far and the amount and variety of shows scattered across many venues in the city is amazing. Here’s to my week 3 and the third and final part of my DLCF blog trilogy.

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Carden’s DLCF Experience part 1

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This year I decided to make the most of Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival, especially as almost all of my favourite comedians are performing in 2015 with the notable exceptions of Gary Delaney and Richard Herring, but I saw Richard Herring’s Lord of the Dance Settee show in Loughborough and I saw Gary Delaney twice, once on his Purist tour and again at a Sarah Millican and Friends night at the Y Theatre which was brilliant.

The first show I saw this year was a Work in Progress show by Angela Barnes at the Globe which was a really lovely venue. The show had a really enthusiastic crowd with some really good banter and it was a very enjoyable performance by Angela Barnes, in fact so much so that I decided to try to get a ticket for her tour show the following night, as I didn’t want to miss out as I’d read really good reviews. But I would just like to confess that Des Lynam was my idea but I didn’t shout out the answer as I thought that would be cheating (which I doubt will make any sense to anyone reading this but I just wanted to clear that up for my own peace of mind).

So the following night at the Cookie I saw Angela Barnes perform her show ‘You Can’t Take It With You’. Some members of the audience were labouring under the false apprehension that their banter with their friend was more entertaining and important than the show they’d paid to see but Angela Barnes was quick to pounce on them and snuff that out, and to take the Mick out of them, which they clearly deserved. I really enjoyed the show and was really glad I got to see it before she starts performing her next show at the Edinburgh Festival.

On the Saturday night I went to Curve to see Dylan Moran’s Off The Hook show which is still a bit of a work in progress. I’ve been a fan of Dylan Moran since Black Books and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to see him live as it was a hugely enjoyable show, even though he said he finished it slightly early due to it not quite hanging together yet. He seemed to be implying that he wanted to end on a bit he was happy with and to cut out a bit he wasn’t quite so sure about. But it was still a good duration for the price of the ticket so I went home happy.

On the Sunday I was lucky enough to see a Q & A with Sarah Millican who is one of my absolute favourite comedians. On the one hand I find her really funny and she has a very sharp and witty mind for interviews, but I also really admire her work ethic and her love for stand-up comedy, seeing it as an end in itself rather than a route to TV presenting or acting. Festival director Geoff Rowe was allowed to get the odd question in but he very sensibly let Sarah do the vast majority of the talking, and the speed at which she talks means that you always get value for money with Millican. Her answers were either very interesting or very funny, and often a lot of both.

The final thing I wanted mention was that while I was on my way to Leicester on the Sunday I received a message that one of my best friends had passed away. Nigel Lawson was the frontman for a band called Dangerous Dogs who played a lot around the local music scene. They were hugely entertaining, playing a real mixture of classic blues songs, original compositions and oddities like the theme from Dad’s Army and songs from The Jungle Book. They are all hugely talented musicians and they described Nigel as their band leader and mastermind. I met Nigel in 2005 and he started accompanying me on harmonica as I performed gigs around the East Midlands. It was always an absolute joy to have him onstage and to spend any amount of time with him offstage as he was a funny, kind and very encouraging person to be around. The last time we played together was last October at the gig I organised for my birthday, during which he said that doing our gigs together gave him the confidence to start what became the Dangerous Dogs, and that meant so much as they were so entertaining and I would always go to see them whenever I could. I recorded quite a few videos of their performances over the years and I’ve put them all up on my Youtube channel so can see them all on the ‘Dangerous Dogs live‘ playlist.

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Book Review: Bedsit Disco Queen by Tracey Thorn

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I’ve been quite stuck in my reading for a while but Bedsit Disco Queen is the most compelling book I’ve read in ages. It follows the parts of Tracey’s life from when she first became passionate about music at the tail-end of punk and wanting to be in a band, forming the Marine Girls and meeting Ben Watt at university, and then the ups and downs of her life as half of Everything But The Girl. Her writing conveys an infectious enthusiasm for music and it really made me realise how lucky anyone is to be able to perform music at any level as it really is a wonderful gift.

The honesty of the book is so refreshing as she deals unflinchingly with what she sees as her shortcomings as a performer and the creative troughs she identifies in her musical output. The book also covers the trauma of Ben’s serious illness which actually had the strange effect of reinvigorating the band. The awkward relationships artists have with their record companies also feature, along with some surreal Spinal Tap moments on tour.

I’ve been reading the book over the past few days, including at a gig I played in Leicester (the photo above shows my setlist written on the back of my hand). I was already reinvigorated about performing again after fighting off a cold which seemed to last for ages. That made me realise that you have to perform when you have the chance because you never know if one day you might not be able to. But Tracey’s book also made me excited about writing new things and trying to find satisfying creative ways forward.

Even if you’re not a famous musician, as I’m not, it can be life-saving to have a creative outlet, be it art, music or literature, and it really doesn’t matter if it doesn’t pay the bills. I’m sure a lot of people would love to do their hobby as their job but it doesn’t always work out like that. You just have to do what you can and enjoy expressing yourself.

This is such an entertaining, engaging and inspiring book. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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The first thing that struck me about this book was the quirky and excellent writing. The second thing was that on a technical point it made me realise how badly proofread The House On The Hill was as it was full of typos. This book however was not and so I praise the proofreaders in the present case to high heaven. Well done you.

The story is narrated by Rose who is a college student at the beginning of the book, and the middle of her story as the book jumps about in time, at first between her early life and her college days. It is clear from the start that she feels somewhat of an outsider and that there is something indefinable about her family life that is not quite the norm, and I found the reveal of that fact a wonderful moment where I really became involved in the story and knew that I was going to love this book.

The book is really well written and the prose is quirky and funny and I couldn’t help but become fascinated by Rose’s story and her awkward character who felt just a little outside of things. It is wonderful in a novel to get to know a character as they reveal more facts about themselves that just draw you into their experience more and more.

As always with these reviews I try not to give anything away about the stories as they are not really reviews but more just recommendations about books I’ve really enjoyed, but I found We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves one of the best books I’ve read in a long time as the bulk of it is about a young person trying to understand who she is and come to terms with her unusual upbringing. It is a really well-written, funny, involving and moving novel. It is also brilliantly proofread.

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Book Review: The House On The Hill by Judy Smith

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What first drew me to this novel was the great cover art and the categories of ghost story and mystery story. The story is told from the point of view of Jenna who is trying to hold together her family following the revelation of her husband’s affair. The family move away from the London to escape the bad memories and relocate to an old cottage. Jenna soon senses that all is not what it seems at the cottage and begins to dig deeper into the history of the place and uncovers more than she bargained for.

The story skips from the present to a year previously when the affair first came to light and there is a sense of tension in the relationship between Jenna and her husband with him trying to set things right and her wondering how she can ever trust him again, but the uncovered story from the cottage’s former inhabitants informs upon Jenna’s present circumstances in unexpected ways.

The story is very engaging and I had a few moments of genuine goosebumps when I came across some of its more ghostly elements. The ending however was a little inconclusive as I was left wondering whether Jenna had learned anything from what she had discovered as there was still so much tension and uncertainty left in her situation, but that certainly didn’t detract from how enjoyable the story was and I suppose it emphasises that rarely in life is there a doubt-free happy ever after.

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Book Review: How I Escaped My Certain Fate by Stewart Lee

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I am ashamed to say I didn’t really follow the wonderful work of the comedian Stewart Lee and Richard Herring back in the 90s. It was my fault entirely, I wasn’t paying attention. So when Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle appeared many years later I wondered how I had managed not to realise what a brilliant comedian he is. I had fallen out of love with stand-up for many years but over the past few years there have been some great comedians who have managed to get on TV for those of us who didn’t get to as many comedy gigs as we would have liked.

The comedian Stewart Lee’s book tells of him falling out of love with stand-up too, due to the apathy of audiences and the sheer expense of the Edinburgh Festival. Many creative people sometimes feel like they’re on a hiding to nothing and need to go away and take stock of the parts of what they’re doing that they like and what works best financially and figure out some kind of compromise or soul-search until a subtle shift in their approach through life experience gives them their answer. I hope that makes some kind of sense.

The book goes into what inspired the comedian Stewart Lee to start out in stand-up and then what made him give up. What follows are the years in-between involving Jerry Springer: The Opera and his realisation of the sheer creative potential of stand-up to be one person on a stage with complete freedom to do anything. The bulk of the book is taken up by transcripts of three of his shows from his comeback show ‘Stand-Up Comedian’ through the follow-up ’90s Comedian’ and ’41st Best Stand-up Ever’.

I think this book has caused me more laughing-out-loud on public transport moments than any other as not only are the transcripts hilarious but the footnotes and comments about other comedians are truly hysterical. There are some appendices featuring some articles the comedian Stewart Lee has written and an interview he did with Johnny Vegas.

The book puts across the comedian Stewart Lee’s passion for his art form and gives more wonderful insights into the world of stand-up comedy. I think I am so fascinated by comedy, not just because I am performing comedy songs, but also because there isn’t much reason to get excited about music these days. So with fantastic writers and performers like the comedian Stewart Lee, Josie Long and others who are doing fascinating and brilliant work it’s hard not to be excited by comedy these days.

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