Archive for April, 2016

SPREADING 72 BAPS FOR VICTORIA

 

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AN AUDIENCE WITHOUT VICTORIA WOOD
An evening of very funny songs and sketches, in aid of Victoria’s chosen charities.
Widcombe Social Club, Bath Saturday 28th May, 8pm

“If there’s a noisy party going on in the block, I don’t complain, I just zip up me cocktail slacks & get over there & get frigging. Or whatever the current dance craze may be.”

My early comedy memories can be hazy – I have half-remembered infancy nightmares about three strange men being chased by a giant Dougal from The Magic Roundabout, and distinctly recall as a tiny tot blowing up balloons for one Christmas with Benny Hill on the telly – even at that very ignorant age, there was something about the way he slapped the little bald bloke and ripped off women’s clothing that I found distinctly unfunny. I also remember the first time I switched on what seemed to be a Tudor costume drama, and something about the rubber face of the man in black kept me glued to the screen.

But I only have one memory of my entire family all sitting around the television equally laughing until the tears rolled down our faces, as the cliché would have it. My parents generally preferred Are You Being Served? or Jim Davidson, and the anarchy of The Young Ones I’d discovered on friends’ parents’ VHS tapes when I was only six were clearly anathema to them. But An Audience With Victoria Wood was obviously for all of us. Her incredible achievement in the solo writing of As Seen On TV had passed us all by, but this time she was on ITV – Central – the channel to which the family TV was pretty much perma-tuned – and so all five of us could discover her natural charm, her unparalleled skill with turning everyday language into a stream of jokes, and above all, her musical comedy mastery, which was what really had us all in uniquely synchronised hysterics, The Ballad of Barry and Freda reaching as great a crescendo as any hour of comedy has ever achieved.

It’s a song which closed my band’s Folk N Funny show last summer, and just a month ago I was performing It Would Never Have Worked as a duet on stage at Moles. I’ve performed in or directed versions of Wood’s sketches a few times in my life – Spaghetti, Medical Student, Hamlet Notes – and never had any doubt about her place as one of the all-time great comedians, totally irrespective of gender. If anyone proved how pointless the word ‘comedienne’ was, it was Wood. Fry & Laurie’s writing of all of their work together is an incredible achievement, but they were two men. French & Saunders similarly had no ‘Addition Material’ credits on their shows, but again, there were two of them. Victoria Wood did it all, on her own, and her output was mind-boggling both in terms of quantity and quality. Dave Allen could be called a ‘genius’ and I’d not demur, but he had a whole team driving his show. Victoria had one of the best ensemble casts to work with of all time, and Geoff Posner was a catch for any comedian to be steering the ship – but when it came to the writing, the stand-up, the songs at the piano… it was all her. So much funny from one mind, and now we’ve had our lot.

Just under a month ago we presented Peter Richardson with the second ever Bath Plug Award for achievement in comedy, and I had zero doubt in my mind about who I wanted to be the winner of The Bath Plug 2017. I’d already talked to the Festival boss Nick Steel about my plans to approach Victoria Wood’s ‘people’ in the hope that she’d see the gig as a fun day out in a beautiful city next April. One of the tricks of The Bath Plug is that we also show some of their work up on the big screen at the Little Theatre, and I thought nothing could be more perfect than an hour’s chat with Victoria, and then we would show her faultless Morecambe & Wise biopic Eric & Ernie, in which she starred as Eric’s Mother Sadie. That was the plan, and what an evening it was going to be.

And so, plans have had to change. But I’m left with this strong desire to do SOMETHING to mark the insanely early loss of one of the finest comedians Britain has ever produced, and so a group of us are arranging a special evening of live performances of her sketches, jokes, monologues and songs. We already have a date and a venue, the brand new Widcombe Social Club in Bath, on the evening of Saturday 28th May. Originally the plan was to raise money for charities that attempt to kick cancer in its stupid face – but it’s since been pointed out that supporting the charity of which Victoria was already a committed patron, www.jessiesfund.co.uk, may mean the money raised has more instant value, and we can be sure it’s supporting something Victoria was passionate about.

Hours and hours have been spent quoting Victoria Wood’s oeuvre in the last 24 hours, not least by me, but I’ll close with this. It’s not my favourite piece of her work by a long chalk – sometimes I think her self-penned 1989 sitcom one-offs gave me the most pleasure, particularly Val-De-Ree – but it’s a perfect example of how much British Comedy owes to Victoria Wood. This is what inspired Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris, and in turn Ricky Gervais and Peter Kay – this is the roots of naturalistic real-life mockumentary, of The Office, Parks & Rec, and so on.

Thank you, Victoria.

‘”What’s that awful smell?” She said, “It’s my grief.” I said, “Well, it wants washing.”‘

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PETER RICHARDSON: FULL STORY & PICS!

And so, the most stressful time of the year draws to a close yet again – The Bath Comedy Festival 2016 is, for me at least, bar a silly afternoon of Unrehearsed Monty Python & The Holy Grail, drawing to a close. Between the shows I have run, the work I have had to do, and numerous personal lifebombs, the last week of March may have taken me to the very limit of stress forbearance. But it sure was bloomin’ well worth it, guv’nor.

In 2013, my band The Unrelated Family played upstairs at Moles Club on a Sunday afternoon – and we were rubbish. But it only took three years to get back to the hallowed music venue (where Steven Morrissey’s combo The Smiths had once launched an album, and Oasis and Blur had both pissed in the dressing room sink) with a full evening of comedy music. As ever, I live my life by the creed that music is one of the most important pleasures in life, and comedy is the highest art form, so bringing them together pretty much constitutes not a load of novelty songs, but the very toppermost of entertainment possibilities. And so, Saturday night was a blast for everyone who made it down to the cellarful of noise we filled with the sounds of Spinal Tap, Flight of the Conchords, Bill Bailey, Rambling Syd Rumpo, The Bonzos, The Rutles, and so on. I’m eternally grateful to guests such as Gavin Lazarus, Matt Bragg, Meat Market, Tin Cards and Martin Roberts (no relation), and we very much hope that Moles (now run by the nephew of none other than John Du Prez, the Python’s maestro) will welcome us back for a 6th FUNNY NOISES in 2017.

And of course, we paid fitting tribute to those ageing or deceased legends of rock Vim, Colin, Den and Spider – otherwise known as BAD NEWS!

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Uncle Simon Williams, Nephew Sam Bligh and Daddy Jem Roberts make noises.

However, while everyone else on the bill was free to indulge in post-gig abandon, I had another epochal event to see to – the second BATH PLUG AWARD at The Little Theatre Cinema, which this year was of course designed as a special night of tribute to THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS, honouring the career of Alternative mastermind PETER RICHARDSON.

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I’m very glad to say that from the opening shots of the latest entry in the TCSP canon, Redtop, a sizeable crowd of diehard fans were in for a real treat – seeing that iconic bomb heading towards earth with HAVE A NICE DAY emblazoned on it up on the big screen in such a wonderful cinema put thrills up my spine. The initial idea for having a special evening of chat with great creators of classic comedy, while enjoying some of their work on the big screen, actually came from a Stella Street event at the Bath Komedia in 2014. Richardson took to the stage with John Sessions and Phil Cornwell in character as Mrs Huggett and David Bowie, and a special clips package was shown on the big screen. This was hugely enjoyable, but it only created a greater hankering to see Peter’s most celebrated work in a cinema setting. It took two years, but with the help of the man himself, Bath Comedy Festival’s evening of tribute to the Comic Strip gang, from our guest’s old friend Nigel (only a fortnight after reviving their Outer Limits duo for a special Rik memorial), to Ade and Rik himself, to Jennifer and Dawn, to Alexei and Keith and Robbie, right the way up to Maxine… was well worth the wait.

I’ve spent the lion’s share of my entire life researching the subject, which seemed to please my guest pleasingly – and yet the answers given to some of the left-field questions provided even greater delight to me and the massed fans that almost filled the Little Theatre Cinema’s velvety main house. Unheard-of comedy facts and anecdotes spilled out. We were treated to stories about how Paul McCartney ended up cameoing in half-forgotten 1980’s feature Eat The Rich (a satirical swipe at Thatcherism badly needing a modern sequel), about the shoestring creativity which went into Redtop (filmed in just 15 days, almost none of it east of Dartmoor), and were even gifted with the slightest idea of what the 43rd entry in The Comic Strip Presents series may be – a narrative about successive owners of one Mini car, currently to be titled ‘One Careful Owner’. We also had a strong refutation of Dawn French’s story about the last line in ‘Suzy’…

When the loquacious, gracious and irreverent guest finally received his golden gong from Bath Comedy Festival boss Nick Steel, the audience rightfully raised the roof, before a special showing of the feature length 30th anniversary Comic Strip documentary. I have recorded the interview, and may be able to share it on here sometime…

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Yours genuinely, Sir Spider Webb, and Nick Steel.

And so, for the second year running my evening ended with a life-long comedy hero getting me incredibly drunk on ruinously expensive wine. Which is after all what it’s all about. He even forgave me for asking about Carry On Columbus. With so much to wallow in for extreme comedy aficionados and even casual fans of Bad News, The Famous Five, and all the other myriad Comic Strip classics, this second Bath Plug presentation left everyone present hopeful that it will not be the last. Keep your wits around you to discover who the third winner of the award might be…

Thank you, fascist young Julian, Arthur Scargill-via-Al Pacino, the seedy Miguel, Mr Lovebucket, shady agent Tiny Townsend, wise Tony Benn-via-Lee-Van-Cleef, cricketing Policeman Mr Chipstick, Genghis Khan, James Blonde, Whispering Bob Harris, and Bad News’ own drumming legend Spider Webb! THE OUTER LIMIT: PETER RICHARDSON!

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