On the creative process behind my new solo show

The genesis of my new solo show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, goes back two years, on the train from Edinburgh back to London from the Fringe. I knew that I had to write a whole hour show, and as I looked around the train I pondered on using it as the location to set the show. My original title, indeed, was Vestibule. I wanted a show about the different people standing in the vestibule of an overcrowded train, and what stories they would share.

The idea for a show with one story came from some of the performers I saw that year, in particular the wonderful Dandy Darkly, whose blend of cabaret and storytelling really struck a chord, and the storytelling of Matt Panesh. I wrote a fifteen minute long piece called Mr. Juicy, which I learned, as a basis for something longer.

The next year I went to Edinburgh with a greatest hits package of my poetry, which I called Juicy, and it did rather well, exceeding my own expectations. Yet I’d not done any of the things that proper performers do. No director, hardly any publicity, no mention of the show in the Edinburgh Fringe Guide. I knew that Juicy would be a stop gap. Mr. Juicy was the last fifteen minutes of this show, and despite its ad hoc nature, the show was performed at other venues around the UK.

Last autumn I took a week off to think about the next show. I had three elements, initially, which I wanted I combine: the idea of a show set on a train, a ringmasters outfit, which I’d bought from Amazon, and a title: In the Glare of the Neon Yak. I sat down with a pen and paper, intent on beginning the story and taking the four months up to January in writing it. Amazingly, I wrote the whole script in one frantic week.

My attention went back to Juicy for a couple of months, as I was still performing it at various places, but as soon as the last performance was done, I started the process of memorising Yak. Until a year ago, I’d never been able to memorise even a three minute poem. However, with a bit of perseverance, and the knowledge that the only way to do it was through hard work, is begun committing several of my poems to memory. I used the same techniques with Yak.

So over the last four months I have managed to commit the whole hour show to my brain. The script has accompanied me everywhere, in particular to the gym and the sauna, places where I can just go over and over the lines. The swimming pool is an amazing place to run through certain scenes. During the snow storms over the winter, snowed in at my parents bungalow, I rehearsed the show while looking out at the fat flakes falling from the sky. And two days ago, in a hotel room on the Atlantic coast, I memorised a whole section while watching the surfers.

I have also employed a director. This is the most scary aspect, as it means that someone else, other than me, is as serious about the project as I am. My friend Bryce has helped with the music for certain moments of the show. And I’ve booked a mini tour, taking in Exeter, Gateshead, Bristol, Guildford, Torquay, Denbury, Barnstaple and, of course, Edinburgh. Indeed, the whole show has taken over my life.

So there’s not much time for anything else. My normal rhythm of poem production and rehearsal has taken a back seat, at least, until September. I’ve been doing less gigs, except for local ones. Everything has condensed down to the show.

The scariest aspect of it all is that the show is different. My usual style is to break the fourth wall, interact with the audience and draw attention to the manufactured aspect of reading poetry in front of people. Yak does not allow me to do this, it is a self contained piece, serious in places, whose sole aim is not just to make people laugh. I’m really looking forward to the first performance, and yet at the same time, I’m very nervous indeed!

So I hope you will be able to come along some time, and see my new show. I just hope that it will all be worth it!

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Modern art and me.

Art and me.

By the time I got to my twenties, I decided to give in and like modern art. This was because most of the classical art of antiquity, architecture, landscape and portrait, historical scenes, statuary, left me deeply unimpressed. You know what young people are like. And it was also because I was a rebel, and I could see that most modern art was about rebellion. I rebelled, by taking an evening class on A-Level Art History, and then immediately regretted it, because the things that I liked only took up a very small amount of the course. It only seemed to perk up by the time we got to the abstract expressionists. Fauvism, Art Deco, modernism, cubism, all seemed too contrived, and I still have no idea what the Pre Raphaelites was all about. Abstract expressionism did it for me.

My taste in art has always been about sixty years out of date. After twenty years of being besotted by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Elaine de Kooning, etc, I decided that abstract expressionism was now somewhat passé. Pop Art was now my thing. Andy Warhol was a genius and I’m sure that we would have got along fine. OK, so I may have been caught up on the romance of The Factory, and it’s swinging vibe, and the Velvet Underground popping round, but Pop Art seemed to say more to me than the abstract of abstract expressionism, even if the ideals of Pop Art seemed less a social commentary, and more an abstractness than abstract expressionism. The throwaway essence of Warhol, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and, indeed, Gilbert and George, spoke more of the world I saw, in much the same way as the poetry of Frank O’Hara.

I call myself a spoken word artist. The first reason for this is that I don’t really call what I do ‘poetry’, even though the pieces that I write, I invariably call Poems. The second reason is that the term has the word ‘artist’ in it. I have a feeling that if I theorise my approach in the context of movements and art history, then I’ll no longer be able to do it properly, but the words ‘avant gard’ have been banded around in the context of my work, along with ‘performance art’ and ‘conceptual’. One of my biggest influences is the po-faced conceptualise of the Pet Shop Boys, who, along with their designer, Farrow, have created a certain unique brand of arch irony. You can do what you like, they seem to say, just as long as you do it with sincerity, integrity.

I’ve often heard it said that comedy and art do not mix. If I wear a hat, and people laugh, then it’s comedy. If they don’t laugh, then it’s art. I’ve done a lot of art over the years. That’s another reason why I am a spoken word artist.

But my biggest influence, and my favourite modern artist, is Laurie Anderson. Laurie is incredibly prolific and uses narrative as well as performance art. She invents instruments,engages with multi media work, creates pop music, and has even written a concert for dogs. Her incredibly inventiveness is an inspiration and through reading her words or listening to her music, I find the energy to embrace different projects and collaborate with different people. I’ve made two short films with film maker John Tompkins, provided spoken word for the avant gard jazz rock group Croydon Tourist Office, worked with photographers and artists in a project called the Trios, collaborated with Jo Mortimer on a set of prints, embarked on an art project of my own called The Most Insignificant Full Stop, and now I’m working on a theatrical spoken word show called In the Glare of the Neon Yak. My previous show, Static, combined long periods of silent prop based performance art with poetry, while my second show, Juicy, was a set of comedy poems. I’ve also written a novel, Reception. I wouldn’t have had the impetus or the inspiration to work on so many diverse projects were it not for the inventiveness of Laurie Anderson.

Going to the Wazza in the Wetherspoons

Poem

A fond and fatalistic farewell,
Sweet fingertips touching and the sickly embrace of souls,
So teary-eyed, this overwrought scene played out
Amid plush furnishings, boozy background chatter
And pro-Brexit propaganda,
Two sweethearts parting, like lovestruck badgers,
Like swans mated for life,
Indeed, like nations
Pulling out of economic and socio-political union.
With a heavy heart, and a heavy bladder,
Does Brad’s long expedition begin, for he is
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

A varnished plywood sign points the way and gives his heart hope,
As he waddles like a pregnant duck
Past tables piled high with triple decker burgers,
Through this labyrinthine, eccentrically carpeted converted sock factory
This utopia of rhythmic belching and exquisitely crafted fart jokes,
How grave this soul, like Shackleton,
Like Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing, he’s
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

An anonymous door next to the serving hatch hell hole
Through which chefs sweat over the bolognese
And churn out searing hot synchronised steak pies,
Leads to a flight of zig zag carpeted stairs up,
Up, to a landing, then on to another landing,
Then up to another landing, how our hero
Hums to himself as the pressure builds, accumulated
Through several coffees, diet Cokes, Apple and Raspberry J20s,
A gallon of water glugged at the gym,
Oh my god, why didn’t anyone stop him?
He goes up to another landing,
Then through a door behind which is another landing,
And then a corridor, and then a flight of stairs,
Until it seems that this accursed maze should
Somehow subvert physicality itself,
And become psychic, subconscious,
Or maybe they just want you to be sober
By the time you get to the bogs,
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

A flight of stairs.
A landing.
A flight of stairs.
A landing.
A corridor.
Bizarrely now, a flight of stairs going down,
Immediately followed by a flight of stairs going up,
WTF,
A landing,
A flight of stairs,
Vision blurring, the zig zag carpets
Beginning to resemble swastikas,
The walls melt like a wedding cake
In a jet engine,
There’s no mobile signal,
No sign of human life,
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

Around the next corner he finds a haggard straggler,
Stooped for oxygen against the wall.
Go on, the old man says, you go on without me,
Tell my wife and kids I love them dearly.
Another door, another flight of stairs,
He thinks he hears the howl of a distant wolf
Or maybe it is time itself, mocking him,
He imagines his fate relayed to those who loved him,
They whisper his name on rainy afternoons,
The man who wanted a wee in the Wetherspoons.

Delirium comes to every soul.
A survival instinct kicks in.
How he pines for the gleaming porcelain of the urinals,
That he might lovingly caress their shiny brilliance
And lose himself to the lemony goodness of the urinal cakes,
A mirage ahead gets his hopes up
But turns out to be the mop cupboard,
He feels like crying, collapsing,
Scrawling his last message on the wall,
My name is Brad, I only wanted a slash,
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

A final corridor turns back on itself,
Reveals a door with faux gold embossed lettering, Gentlemen,
And he crashes through, almost sobbing with relief,
A journey done, a quest fulfilled, like Homers Odyssey,
Like Jason and the Argonauts,
Like those sodding Hobbits in Lord of the Rings,
He runs to the urinal and fumbles with his fly
At the exact moment that the fire alarm goes off.

Promotional video for my new solo show

Here’s a link to a short video I have made about my new show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak

https://youtu.be/VKEXMdGwDME

And the latest tour dates are as follows.

See you soon!

Dawson’s Lake

Dawson’s Lake

It was the first day of summer.
A warm breeze breathed through the juniper bushes.
We went down to Dawson’s Lake,
Me and Emmy Lou,, Mary Lou, Betty Lou and Debs,
The hot sun glinting from the chrome grill of our
1957 fire red Lincoln Convertible,
Changed into our swimming clothes and fell under the spell
Of our youthful exuberance.

The water was cool and invigorating.
We frolicked in the shallows and then lay on the
Sand banks drying in the sun.
Mary Lou said that she was worried about sharks,
And we laughed.
Betty Lou said she was worried about axe murderers,
And we laughed.
Emmy Lou said she was worried about the
Representation of gender in the media
And I laughed,
And then I realise that nobody else was laughing.

I think I’ve found two grains of sand the same,
Said Debs,
She’d brought a microscope with her.
They’re around here someone, she said,
Looking at the ground.

I liked Betty Lou,
And I was about to suggest a session
Of heavy petting,
But her nose was running,
So we did some medium petting instead
And then
Chatted about nuclear annihilation.

Emmy Lou brushed her long hair in the hot sun.
She said that her uncle once met the poet Hart Crane
While ice fishing on this very Lake.
I didn’t understand why anyone would go ice fishing
When you can make ice at home
Perfectly well
In your freezer.

Mary Lou turned on the radio
Just in time for Del Shannon’s Runaway.
During the chorus I
Urinated behind a rhododendron.
Emmy Lou brushed her long hair in the hot sun.
Debs tried to alphabetise the shrubs.
I carved my initials in the rotting carcass
Of an armadillo.
Emmy Lou brushed her long hair in the hot sun.
Mary Lou and Debs arm wrestled over the last ham sandwich.
Emmy Lou wrote ‘I love James Dean’
On the side of a goose.
I urinated behind a rhododendron.
The radio played Elvis Presley’s Crocodile Rock.
Debs uses the car door mirror to
Apply her lipstick,
Wrenched if clean off the car door.
Betty Lou gouged a Pepsi and belched so loud
A flock of geese took off in fright.
Emmy Lou brushed her long hair in the hot sun
The radio played Del Shannon’s Runaway again.
Mary Lou upchucked over the hot dogs.
Emmy Lou shrieked because she thought she saw
Richard Nixon in the undergrowth.
I urinated behind a rhododendron.
The radio played Buddy Holly singing Shuddupa Ya Face.
I urinated behind a rhododendron.
I think I might have a problem.
Emmy Lou brushed her long hair in the hot sun.
The radio played Del Shannon’s Runaway.
Our lives are small and meaningless.

I really like my nipples.

Poem

I really like my nipples.
They’re kind of parallel.
The man who delivered the pizza last night
Said he liked them as well.

I stare at them in the mirror
For hours and hours in end
Singing, look at them there
All nipply nipply ever so tripply
Skippitty dippity doo
Which is how I got banned
From Primark.

The distance between
Male nipples
Equates to the size of their you know what
Equates to the size of their you know what
Dean used to say to me,
Boy, yours are so close
They’re making me cross eyed.

Crumbs from my crusty cheese roll
Get flaked in the forest of my chest hair.
As I brush them off
I accidentally touch a nipple.
Oh yes, I shout,
I forgot I had those!
Hubba hubba.
It’s how I lost my job
As a primary school teacher.

The box full of penguin nipple tassels
I sent to the Antarctic
Was sadly returned unused
I just thought
They would brighten up the place.

I dipped my nipples in paint
And tried to use them to draw
A map of the London Underground.
The Swedish tourist said,
It’s ok, I’ve got a leaflet somewhere.

I call my left one ‘Wayne’.
The right one doesn’t really
Have a name
They both look the same
And what really is a shame
Is that I can’t bend down
And lick them.

Darts players have got them.
The man in the newsagents has got them.
My friend Pete says he’s got six.
The train conductor this morning said,
Show me your ticket,
And I said,
Show me your nipples
And he said
There’s only one tit on this train.

My left one is pierced.
It’s where I keep my keys.
I come and go with ease.
They jangle when I sneeze.

He asked me out!
He asked me out!
The man of my dreams
Asked me out!
I put my hand down my tshirt
And had a good fondle and thought
You know what?
I don’t really need him.
Lol.

A progress report on In the Glare of the Neon Yak and how it’s going.

Or, ‘On being a submarine commander.’

Not long ago I watched a TV documentary about the making of the sitcom Seinfeld, during which Jerry Seinfeld, who was writing, producing and starring in the show, said that a season of it was like being a ‘submarine commander’, in that everything else became excluded from his life and he just concentrated on the show for months on end. It was an interesting description, and I’m starting to see what he means with my new one hour show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak.

I started writing it a few days after returning from the Edinburgh fringe last year. I came up with the title first, and then I bought a circus ringmaster costume, and I tried to think of a way of combining the two. In October I had a week off from work and I sat down and wrote the whole show in five days. This surprised even me, but I was really happy with the outcome and eager to get started on rehearsing it. However, at the time I was still working on Juicy, as it had a couple of dates left.

At the end of the year I did something either brave, or stupid. I reduced the number of hours I do in my day job, in retail management. This meant there was less money coming in, of course, but it also meant I had more time to spend on Yak, and making a career out of spoken word. Little did I know that the show was about to take over my life.

Now, it must be admitted that I have always had trouble learning anything from memory. Previous to the end of the year, I couldn’t even memorise a simple three minute poem. I was asked to appear at a theatre event in Hackney and they stipulated that I had to perform a five minute poem from memory. I set about learning it and, I must say, did a damn fine job doing so. This gave me the confidence to learn something slightly longer. So what did I do? I decided to learn the whole hour show from memory!

So since the end of January, when I did my last performance of Juicy, I have been solidly lining the script for Yak. I do it every day. I do it before work, and after work. I do it on my day off, I do it at the gym while on the exercise bike, and in the sauna. I do it whenever I’m on the bus, the train, or just walking. The whole show has been completely taking up my mind all the time except for when I’m at work. And when I’m not memorising the play, I’m designing the poster, dealing with photographers for the poster, speaking to venues, filling in fringe application forms, writing blurbs, buying props and costumes, rewriting sections, working on the backing music, it really is neverending. When it snowed and I got snowed in while visiting my parents, I rehearsed while looking out the window at the snow falling. When my work colleagues left and I was alone, I rehearsed in the store room of the shop. Every spare moment has been spent on the show.

Has my normal spoken word work suffered? Possibly. I have still been writing, but not rehearsing new material with quite the same zest. I’m still promoting two spoken word nights. I’m doing feature sets around the country.

Soon I’ll be working with a director for the next couple of months. It’s an exciting chance to get someone else involved and I’m looking forward to hearing what she thinks. She’s very enthusiastic about the project.

So now I know exactly what Jerry Seinfeld meant. Today, for example, I rehearsed for an hour, got the train to work while running over lines in my head, then again at lunch time, then on the train home. This evening I’ve been working on publicity material for the show, and prewriting some Tweets for a venue.

I’m having an amazing time, and I can’t wait for people to see what I’ve been up to. It’s a departure from my normal style. According to my diary, however, my first free week off from Yak will be in early September. And that’s when the submarine will be docking for the next time!