Archive for July, 2017

I Played Bloody GLASTONBURY!

I’ve been performing comedy since the turn of the millennium, and been a solo comedy cabaret minstrel specialising in absolute filth and Tory abuse for over a decade. But as you may have guessed – and as is probably wise – I have no intention of ‘making it’ as a performer whatsoever. I don’t think it’s wank or swank to say that I’m a damn good MC and I do miss making a bit of cash from performing at burlesque and the like, but above all, what I’m interested in is the experience of a gig, and sewing badges on my performer’s uniform. Getting a gig at Glastonbury is one of the tippest-toppest performer badges I could get, and finally, this year, I managed it.

Bath has its own little enclave at Glastonbury going right back to the start of the Festival, and it’s the Bandstand. I was supposed to play it last year, but it always clashes with Ludlow Fringe, so it’s never quite happened up till now. Having bagged the gig, 2pm on Saturday 24th, and living in Bath, I was intending to make a day of it, but friends ridiculed me out of that cowardice, and with a loaned pop-up tent, I made a weekend of it instead, and am very glad I did (although my total lack of camping experience made the 3 or 4 hours’s kip I got, hanging onto a cliff-edge in a wet sock, a less than luxurious experience, must do better). I mean, I was never going to spend £250 of my own money on going to Glastonbury – I missed Macca in 2004 and Bowie in 2003, or whenever it was, so all impetus had pretty much gone. But free entry was our only payment, so I made the most of it – I saw Billy Bragg (14th time, I think), I saw Ralph McTell in the Leftfield tent, and got to shout ‘DO STREETS OF LONDON!’ at him, I saw Alison Moyet, Squeeze and Radio Active again, and got caught in the human meatloaf that filled a square half-mile when Jeremy Corbyn took to the stage, so we could hardly hear anything, and see the odd giant ear through branches, as we heaved and groaned in an immovable crowd. Proper ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’ stuff. Besides the constant battle between horrible food and more horrible shit for attacking your nostrils at every turn, it’s an experience I wouldn’t have missed for toffee.

As for my own Tory-bashing set? WELL HERE IT IS ANYWAY, but it’s an awful recording of a wonderful hour. It’s not good enough for Soundcloud, but I will keep the Dropbox link here for a while, if folk are interested/masochistic. The Bandstand (which wasn’t the humble sideshow I presumed, but had a large and lush hospitality suite where I could charge my phone, and made it my home for days) is in the Marketplace, very near the Pyramid stage, and you have to attract passers-by. Despite Jools Holland and friends making jet engine-volume noise over the way, this I feel I managed to do quite admirably. It was a pleasure to see festival-goers strolling by, looking up, half-realising ‘Hang on, this one’s actually got some words worth listening to’ amid an ocean of far more technical talent-evidencing muzak, and then they’d stop, listen more, and laugh. Loads of people began to stop and pay attention, and even at my most annoyingly modest and glib, I can’t pretend they’re weren’t absolutely creasing themselves up at my filth. So, although this recording gives only the barest idea of what larks my set provided, I was unusually happy that I’d struck home.

And I spent the rest of my time attempting to subliminally promote Tales Of Britain, to no avail. But maybe next year… What? 2019? Bollocks.

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Tales of Britain #1

It’s time to come out of the scriptorium – yes, I am Brother Bernard. And my fifth book project, just launched on Unbound, is http://www.TalesofBritain.com.

A lot of people have been kind enough to say that ToB is a fantastic idea. But it’s more the case that it’s a HORRIFIC idea that there’s currently nothing else like it. You can spend £150 on a mini-library of British tales, or buy 80 separate regional county folklore books, or choose from a whole library of general non-fiction titles on mythology – but a single collection of our standalone folklore in one place? You won’t find one. So please, if you love stories, or Britain, or indeed me, help us to rectify this situation.

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I have already written so many screeds of explanation about this project both on the website and the Unbound site, I shan’t overload my personal blog with it all over again, please do click through and learn more for yourself. But I can say a bit more about the genesis of this campaign, which has been growing for 13 years now, and I have been working away at it while writing all of my comedy non-fiction books and suchlike.

Today is 07/07/17 (there are 77 tales in Tales of Britain, FWIW), and besides being the birthdays of Ringo Starr, Bill Oddie and Jon Pertwee, it’s also my eldest nephew Natey’s 13th birthday. 13 years ago I had a hobby of regularly getting my own children’s writing turned down by publishers, but I had this idea (since rued – having had four more nephews, the man-hours are astronomical!) of creating my nephew a book, hand-written and illustrated, of my atheist humanist fable The Woolly Jerboa. However, telling that tale only took up 2/3 of the plain book I’d bought, so how to fill out the rest? Well, my brothers and I are from Shropshire, halfway down the Welsh border, but my nephews are all born Yorkshiremen, or Dorsetians, so how about I give them a taste of their paternal roots by retelling a Shropshire folktale? I found a selection on this website, very simple retellings by Dez Quarrell, and without that impetus, none of this may have happened. I chose a Ludlow tale, The Stokesay Key, as the very first folktale I would re-imagine, and 13 years ago today, the tiny baby Nathaniel had it waggled vaguely in front of his uncomprehending eyes.

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As times went by, more nephews required more folktales, and then friends in different areas of the UK started having kids – Cheshire (The Wizard of Alderley Edge), Stirling (Tam O Shanter) and so on. And only then did I discover that NOBODY HAD PUBLISHED A BRITISH TREASURY OF FOLKTALES! And somebody surely HAD to! A few books came close – one on ‘Stories from British history’ made me almost relieved that the burden was lifted from me, but I read some in the shop, and it was the most sparse and leaden prose you’ve ever read (‘Once upon a time there was a King. His name was Leir. He had three daughters. One day…’ YAWN.), presumably written with strict adherence to a children’s publishers’ obsession with target Key Stage 5 or some such utter bilge. Children’s publishing these days is templated, homogenised and strangled with restrictions like never before – Tales of Britain wouldn’t have stood a chance with any publisher other than Unbound.

This was especially clear as I ranted to friends and strangers the country over that there was literally NO British story book in shops, and certainly not one like this, which doubles as a tourist guide and handy ‘Day Out’ suggestion book for families, ramblers and the like. I saw the same manic gleam in eyes all over the UK, as I was told, ‘But I HAVE to have this book! Where is it?’ It belongs on the backseat of every car, and in every hikers’ backpack. An exploration of the British Isles via myth and story. I hope soon it will be, and Unbound publishes books that the people want, but which publishers fear, so it seems perfect. They have a strong QI pedigree, and I see Tales of Britain as doing for stories what QI does for facts – collecting and celebrating them in a fun but authoritative way. However, the next 6-12 months of crowdfunding will be perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done. Even funding Soupy Twists became a bit miserable at times, when pledges slowed, even with Stephen’s 12.5m Twitter followers, and despite the wide-spread desire I’ve seen for a new British folklore collection, I’m expecting this to be at least doubly difficult, without a fanbase like Stephen & Hugh’s to rely on.

So please do pledge on the Unbound site, and please do spread the word via social media, and please do mention it in the café and the pub and at the school gates, particularly in earshot of parents and teachers, and please do allow these 13 years of story-collecting to finally bear fruit sooner rather than later. Because over the years, Tales of Britain has gone from being a book idea, to a broad and joyous CAMPAIGN, with a whole team of us doing all we can to revive the British folktale treasury, and retell them afresh for the 21st century – we tell the tales live, we hope to launch a podcast and who knows what else, but it all begins and ends with this book, the most important thing I have ever done.

I hope we all live happily ever after.