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Saturday, August 22

Hard Bloody Work

This may well be my holiday, but it doesn't mean I'm sitting around sipping cappuccinos and watching the world go by. I'm putting a fair amount of effort in. I started yesterday with breakfast in my favourite coffee shop in Edinburgh. I had a nice cappuccino and sat near the window where I could watch the world go by. See what I did there?

After breakfast, I did some flyering, which wasn't much fun, but is an essential part of the Edinburgh Fringe experience. Then I had a script meeting with the other half of the 1.25pm show. After we discussed the edits, it was time to sit around and wait for show time.

For various reasons, the show we ended up performing went awry. I didn't enjoy it at all and packed up feeling rather conflicted. The irritation was compounded further by the fact that the back stage area is effectively blocked by another production for a further 90 minutes after our show ends, and I have to be away from the venue within 30 minutes. I kept my temper.

Then off I went to our 3.30pm show, which I MCed. I had fun with that. We're doing a game where you have to take a celebrity and a household object, suggested by the audience, and write jokes about the pairing of the two before the end of the show. What the audience doesn't know is that my own personal challenge is to take the pairing and create a one-off song combining them. This I did, yesterday, with Rowan Atkinson and a Water Jug. If in doubt, make a song about wanking - that's what I always say.

Anyway, two shows down, we hot-footed it to the next venue and did then next show. The audience were sort of fine, up and down, largely ok. Then I decided to do a newer song to them. This worked much better than I expected. I think it was the energy with which I attempted the new song and the clear fact that I was doing something a bit new and extra. They were lovely.

After show 3, you'd think a man could relax, but I knew I had another show in that room in a couple of hours. I stored my guitar back stage and then went home to remove my contact lenses and relax before the next show. I'm finding this year in Edinburgh a bit challenging on my emotions. They seem to bounce up and down in sync with tiredness and irritations that happen over the day. As such, I managed to have a massive tantrum during my phone call with my girlfriend and I smashed my phone up by flinging it across the room.

I should point out that the cause of the annoyance in this instance was the phone itself. I wasn't annoyed at what was happening in the phone call. I was annoyed that, while I was telling my beloved about how things are really doing their best to piss me off today, the phone decided to disconnect me with a random "Connection error". The signal in Edinburgh this year has been shit. The phone is cutting out, or giving us 5 seconds of total silence from time to time. Quite frankly, this bit of equipment needed to be taught a lesson, and throwing it against the wall was the best way. It did get rather broken, though.

Later on, in a calmer mood, I realigned bits of it that were most fractured, so it now functions close enough to normal to be usable. I will be getting a new phone in the near future anyway. Now I have to.

I went back out from the flat and opened the 8.30 show in the venue I'd left a few minutes before. The show went really well. I overran my slot, but I was having a lot of fun, so why not, eh?

Then I hot-footed it across town to the 10.05 show. I arrived a little early, in time to see the end of the previous show where an Edinburgh friend was performing. He was on good form and the audience liked him. I also liked the generous bar manager, whom I know from previous years in Edinburgh, who ensured I was well stocked with something to drink. Thanks!

My performance in the 10.05 show was very enjoyable as, given that it was my 5th show of the day, my brain pretty much exploded with punchlines non-stop as I performed. It didn't do any harm that there was a room full of pretty young student girls. There's always comic potential in being a huge sweaty 35 year old man in front of a room full of people half your age. I said some very silly things.

The 10pm show has a bit at the end where the acts come up on stage to do something extra. While I was doing that, I got a call (which I turned into texting) on my ailing phone. Could I do the 11.40pm show - Shaggers - across town? Do gig number six? In my condition? Ah, ok.

So, no time to hang around the gig aftermath and impress people with the opportunity to meet me. Ooh nooh, I was off again. Guitar back in bag. Guitar stand back on the back. Music stand back in its bag and then draped over the guitar bag. The whole lot, hoisted onto my back... then I'm off. Like a mountaineer who's misjudged the best way to scale everest (scale! ha ha). "Have you brought your ropes Bill?" "Erm... no, I've brought my acoustic guitar, though - any use?"

Shaggers is a show which has the basic premise of being about sex. You do stand-up that is, hopefully, filthy. It should be a big benefit, therefore, that 30-years-in-the-business pornographer and porn actor, Ben Dover (probably not his real name), is in town and had agreed to do the show. It should also be a fairly easy show to do. Make some filthy jokes in front of a fairly big, packed room.

It should be easy.

I closed. My work was cut out for me. At 40 minutes past midnight in a very large room, it can be hard to see whether anything is funny. I had to deliver a barnstormer of a performance for my 6th gig of the day. I suppose its good exercise.

What made me laugh was my position in the running order. I said it to the audience "I'm on after the porn star and the midget: Rock and Roll!".

I found yesterday quite hard and I had some periods when I wasn't happy. Various things picked me up. Some were just giving my all in a performance. One pick-up was my girlfriend, who is always good to talk to. Another pick-up was running into an Edinburgh friend in the street, between gigs one and two, just as the sense of confusion, irritation and humiliation was starting to kick in. Going for a coffee and blethering was just the pick up I needed.

Thanks to everyone who put something positive into my day yesterday. Today is a fresh day. Let's see how much fun it can be.

Friday, August 21

Back To Blog

For those people who are reading these posts on Facebook, thinking that I'm writing some pretty long notes to myself, think again. This isn't Facebook-noting, it's blogging. Blogging is what we had before we had twitter. Twitter, with its 150 character limit, to me, is the epitome of the "can't be arsed" culture. I know that some people will have stopped reading this entry by about now, as a direct product of the fact that I've reached the 150 character, limit. The simple truth, though, is that you can't express yourself fully in only 150 characters.

As a special treat, though, here is how good writing could be condensed into the brainless youth-speak of twitter:


Romeo and Juliet
A couple of kids from the wrong families, yeah, fell in love, but ended up committing suicide. They was in the wrong gangs, know what I'm sayin'?


Obviously the above couldn't be a youth-speak twitter as it has punctuation. I can't omit it, even when I'm being sarcastic.

Anyway, while I have a strange period of time between waking up and actually feeling like facing the world, I may as well put some words down for posterity. I don't care who doesn't read this. I read back on it from time to time, and it's nice to have some first-hand reports from my own history. Indeed, reading some of these blog entries is so vivid, I feel a bit like Doctor Sam Beckett, quantum leaping into a life in history, only in a totally disconnected and incapable of changing anything sort of way.

On with the blether about yesterday. The day was quite broken, at least in its first half. I started out with a cycle into town for breakfast, only to discover that the place I wanted to get breakfast from was way way too full. My second choice was fine, and I read the papers and had my coffee.

Then the rains came. I'd say rain, but I think it was two rival gangs of rain coming from different directions - a bit like "the rumble" in West Side story. Sometimes it was quiet. Sometimes we had the patter of one shower's worth of rain, and sometimes it looked like we were trapped in the only shelter in some sort of soggy apocalypse.

It made me order more coffee and wait it out. Eventually it seemed dry enough for me to cycle back to the flat get my guitar and walk back to the venue to meet my comedy other half to prepare for our show.

The good thing about our show is that it's going well and we're learning how to play it to various audiences. The bad thing about it is that there are a few hiccups - a few flat bits we need to fix. We were to meet at 12 to discuss it. Then I got the text that my other comedy half was ill and would not be well enough to be on stage for an hour. You can't pause a show for your partner to rush to the loo, so we had to pull it.

I decided I would stay in the venue and do some random stand-up if the need arose. I think it was simultaneously a stupid and edifying experience to have made that decision. In the end, though I could have exit-flyered some people to make up the numbers and didn't because I had nothing to exit flyer them for, three people turned up to see the show. Two of them decided to stay and one of them, who behaved suspiciously like a reviewer, opted to leave when they discovered it was a replacement show.

So perhaps illness saved us from review on our quietest day.

I offered the two gents, who came into my room for the show, the chance of walking away without bothering. An audience of two for stand-up can pretty much ruin the illusion of a show. I explained what we were doing and ran through some stuff. It was odd, but I learned a bit about playing it all differently and turning on the not-giving-a-shit mode even in a potentially socially difficult situation. I say that, perhaps it was just mental. I suspect nobody would have minded if I'd just sent the two fellers off to see another show.

I didn't organise a collection at the end of my one-man comedy jukebox. It would have been arse-clenchingly embarrassing.

I wandered towards the next venue and caught up with my house-mate/other-show-mate, and we had a coffee. Then we found ourselves in front of a weird audience at the next show. They just couldn't or wouldn't relax and let the laughs out. After a cavalcade of trying to make them laugh, and after I'd even explained what they were doing - which was suppressed silent giggling - I came off stage, in no way sure of whether I'd amused them or not.

One of the comments I amused myself with was the line "I've done this song about 600 times - it usually has a laughter track".

Then we hot-footed it to the next show, which I opened. I had some fun bantering with the crowd, but ended up feeling like they needed hitting with a bunch of solid bankable material. Sometimes an audience seems forgiving - these guys were nice, but wanted all guns blazing at them. So that what we did. Their generosity of laughter proved an alternative to other forms of generosity, according to the financial reckoning, at least.

Three differently weird shows complete, I ditched my guitar at the flat, removed the contact lenses and then set out on an evening of show watching.

I squealed, giggled and roared with laughter at Pappy's Fun Club. I appreciated, and occasionally roared at Andrew Lawrence, and I had a nice mixture of reaction to the various acts on at the BBC Comedy Presents show.

It made yesterday a nice 6 show day and I ended up energised and on the up.

Now try relating all that in 150 character segments.

Thursday, August 20

Intense

The Fringe can get pretty intense. Yesterday was a seven show day for me. It might have ended up with more shows in, but it rained and I needed to get home to get my contact lenses out and... well, I couldn't be bothered to go back out. So I didn't.

The first two shows I saw were 30 minutes in length and in the same room where we're doing The Seven Deadly Jokes. I was curious to see what was happening in that room without us. In particular one of the shows has a big song in it and I wanted to know what it sounded like from within the room. I found out.

Our show went reasonably well. I think we're comfortable with it and know how to play it. It's clear now that some changes need to be made, since the show noticeably flattens here and there. It should be relatively easy to do, I think. We're having a meeting today to thrash it out.

After one show there comes another and we played to an audience of four at The Hive at 3.30. This is not the end of the world and was a chance to have a bit of a muck about. It also meant we ran a smaller show and then headed to the next venue in time to exit-flyer the previous show and be ready in plenty of time for ours.

Our room grudgingly filled up. It started out ok, but eventually more people drifted in. It's a good room for that, I suppose. It's just a shame that they can't turn up on time. The mood of this audience was a bit tricky, but I had fun with them in the end. Sometimes you have to take a few risks and then the audience will come on side. I did a bit of audience interaction and some high-energy stuff and it all started to come together.

After the show I met a friend for coffee and we struggled to get a table outside of Starbucks. In the end we had to ask whether we could go "sharesies" with a nice girl who was sitting quietly eating her fried food. She didn't mind. The German family next to us insisted they needed all 6 chairs around their table. I say family, there were two of them... and nobody else showed up! Weird. They like sitting within a circle of 4 empty chairs... or perhaps their 4 kids are invisible to the naked eye. Or may they are stealth kids - hidden from view to all enemies. Who knows?

Coffee was followed by a chat to my girlfriend on the phone. I was a bit worried about this chat overrunning as I had a gig to attend and I also needed to put a new string on my guitar, the A string having snapped at the end of the previous show. I eventually raced into the venue, did all the sound checking, and then... well, we had one of "those" shows.

For reasons which can only be guessed at, you sometimes get an audience that simply can't laugh. I watched a cavalcade of experienced and good acts get less than they deserved from this audience and it got rather amusing. There was just something amiss. I think it was partially a language barrier - and I say that in a non-patronising way - I think that we were all delivering gags at breakneck pace in order to give them maximum impact, and I think only half the audience could understand the nuances of language at that speed.

This doesn't have to be a problem in comedy. One of the things we talk about in The Seven Deadly Jokes is the fact that people can laugh at a joke they don't get, based simply on the atmosphere of others laughing. This was illustrated in the show before ours today where a 4 year old lad laughed instinctively with the audience at most punchlines. It just was funny. So, an audience doesn't need to get the jokes... they just need to feel the funny.

At 7.15 - they weren't feeling the funny.

At the 8.30 show I watched, the audience were. That's how it works. No point in taking it to heart.

I've avoided total collapse, I've been here less than a week, I've enjoyed my audiences so far, and I'm learning to moonwalk. That's the fringe.

Wednesday, August 19

So Now You Know

Turns out that it's done like this:


Kids We Got A Show

Yesterday I performed four times and got rather tired. I ended up having an early night. The shows generally went well, and I even managed to have an evening meal at a sensible time. Outside of stuff on stage, the only ridiculous thing I did was giggle my arse off at this:



The story of the day for me, though, happened when I was waiting for the room to become available for The Seven Deadly Jokes. All of a sudden there was a commotion in the hallway; a troupe of people were clamouring to find out who books slots in the venue. I pointed out that this is all a pre-booked festival and there weren't rooms available at random for shows.

The leader of the group then told me that they were running a youth band from Merseyside and that their gig had been pulled - they were trying to find an alternative. I realised that there might be a way to sneak them onto the bill of the cabaret show that happens every night in that venue, and I even had my own slot on the bill last night, so I could happily withdraw and give it to the band.

I told them to wait in the bar and that I'd make some phone calls. I first needed to track down the person who does the booking. I managed to ring around for her number while getting the props for our show from the storage cupboard. Then I called her.

I told her the situation while the band members watched me in the bar. There was a tension in the room. I discussed how it could be made to work. The lady I was talking to, the delightfully sprightly Lynn Ruth Miller, didn't even miss a beat. Of course they can play. I got details for when they would have to arrive and so on and then hung up.

"You've got the gig" I declared. Then, in a fit of karmic balance, I accepted their offer of an audience for our show, and what might have been an audience of 6 turned into 16. We had a good show as a result.

I even went to see them perform in the Cabaret in the evening. How lovely.

Tuesday, August 18

Day 3 or is it 4? or... Well, how should I know: I'm in Fringe Mode

Usually it takes until the middle of the Fringe, or at least one week in, before the fug of confusion and exhaustion sets in. Unfortunately, in my case, as I've been getting steadily unhealthier, I'm pretty much knackered and confused on a daily basis at the moment. There's a simple formula - my focus and sprightliness is inversely proportional to the distance I am from my next performance. In fact it may be an inverse-square relationship.

The reason: Doctor Theatre. This is not someone you invite over to help rebuild your ailing performance space. Doctor Theatre is more of a self-healing trick we humans have whenever we're called on to give a performance. The anticipation, the adrenaline and the general drive to do it all come together and you end up feeling falsely fine (all the f's) and able to just get on with it.

Don't worry. This is not some story of a man whose 35 year old frame is due to shatter under the exertions of another Fringe, or whose limbs are unable to carry the 20-odd stone that he finds himself carrying at the moment. It's more a reality check. I can, somehow, run around this city in a good mood, spinning round lampposts like I'm in a musical and bounding around with joy, because I love being here and doing the Fringe. On the flip side, sometimes there are these moments where it all blends into one and where my energy levels drop to "zombie" and I can only lumber around, kept going by nothing much more than momentum.

Perhaps I should eat more regularly. I'm eating quite healthily, which is definitely a start, but I've no time between starting the show-performing at 1.25 until ending them at 6 or later, to go for food... and then other stuff kicks in. So I get breakfast, then I get hungry. I'm hungry now just thinking about it.

Yesterdays shows were fun. I enjoyed myself. I have a joke about the Panama-escaping John Darwin, who faked his own death in a canoe incident, so it's good he's back in the news. I would have used him in the topical show we do, but unfortunately, that didn't happen. Here's a quick script of what happened when we went to do that show:

SCENE 97:

Sully: Ashley, you know the slot for your show is on the board as cancelled, and you know how there's a new show starting today in room 2, and you see all those pensioners who've suddenly gone to sit in your room, now the show before has finished.
Ashley: Yes?
Sully: Well, you might want to make sure they're not here for the other show. It seems a bit strange, under the circumstances.
Ashley: Ok - we'll make an announcment.

Cut to Ashley on stage doing the sound check in front of an auditorium that seats 100 with about 70 people sitting in it. Ian comes on the microphone.

Ian: Hi everyone. The next show in this room is The Great Big Comedy Picnic. It will start in about 10 minutes. If you're here for the Office Party show, then it's in room two.

Entire audience stands up to leave.

Ian: Ashley - now look what you made me do.
Ashley: They'd have found out eventually...

END

Quite funny actually. I have never been on stage when so many people have left so quickly and effectively.

We pulled that show, but I found myself with a show I didn't think I had, so it all works out somehow.

The Seven Deadly Jokes went pretty well. One facebook comment suggested that Hannah fluffed stuff, but I think we both did in equal measure, and I did sort of pick on the people in the middle of the room who were talking and generally looking bored, which was a no-no. We had some fun with the show overall, though, and I think, broadly speaking, it worked well and flew along. It's a bloody full hour, though, so we've room to make cuts if we need to. Maybe we will.

Other shows went well for me today too. I'm enjoying the Fringe immensely. It's so much more fun than work. That's not to say that I don't give care and attention to work. I had a 30 minute chat with my work people at the start of the morning to help hand-over some of the things which needed more explanation after the point when I left the office last Friday.

To be honest, it feels like a lot longer ago that I left the office, which is good. A bit of distance (even if it's only an illusion of distance) is good in life.

Outside of shows I performed in, I saw a strange play at the start of the day, and a friend's "work in progress" show after I'd stopped performing. Then I went out for drinks and chats with a couple of friends, whose wedding introduced me to my girlfriend... so I probably owe them big time.

A good day, and who cares which day it is.

Monday, August 17

Another Installment

And now, here's a further installment in the frankly unscintillating story of what I did on my summer holiday. To understand why this is a holiday, despite what I'm about to describe, you have to understand how the rest of my life works these days.

I do a lot of travelling. This is not particularly a problem, in fact, it was an 8 hour car journey, which I rather enjoyed, which brought me all the way to Edinburgh the other night. However, the fact that I'm always in the car makes something of a routine for me, and it's good to break it as I've done with a vigour since I've been in Edinburgh (only 2 full days so far, but it already seems like a lifetime).

Also, I work in a rather demanding job. There are three ways you can deal with a demanding job. You can pretty much ignore it, go in, serve your time and hope nobody notices much. I guess there are times when everyone's done that. You can also go on and just do the best you can during the day, going home to forget about it. I can occasionally manage that. Then there's the sort of obsessive behaviour that gets you acting on the basis of "but surely I can make this stuff happen by sheer force of will and by putting in extra effort". This latter one is what I'm like when I'm both at my best, and at my own self-damaging frustrating worst.

It's been up and down in the real world and I've been using Edinburgh as the excuse. It's my excuse for "well, things can remain a bit shit now, because I'll be in Edinburgh and then I can feel better". So now I'm here and it's working a charm. It's not that I've been unhappy in the last few weeks, just hassled by responsibilities, which I've now pretty much parked at the back of my mind until I leave Scotland.

Am I taking this opportunity to kick back, relax, do little, oversleep? Nope. Edinburgh during the Fringe, even a seemingly lazy Sunday, is my busy time. I woke around 9.30 - 10 yesterday. I spent a little time on the computer, showering, and getting ready to go out. The last two in that list weren't related to the first, obviously; who showers on their computer? Maybe some people will shower on their iPhone - the iShower or someshit. Anyway, I left the flat in the end and went for breakfast and the papers.

The idea of reading the papers in the morning, and it's the red-tops because they're better for this, is to get ideas for material. We're doing topical comedy shows all month, and having a few news-based quips is a pretty good idea. Given there's not much happening in the news, this is easier said than done.

I had breakfast and plenty of coffee and then it was almost time to go to the venue to get ready for our first show of The Seven Deadly Jokes. I'm not sure quite how time passed, but before I knew it it was 1.15pm and we were frantically setting the show up. Not frantically - that suggests a panic - just busily.

First show of The Seven Deadly Jokes went pretty well. People got the jokes and seemed to like them. There was a diverse mix of people in, including one guy who came about 10 minutes from the end and laughed like a drain at one punchline, making it all seem worthwhile. I was really pleased that we hit the ground running with the show, and it all felt comfortable and right. Like we had the right show in the right room.

All to play for today, of course. Who knows how audiences will treat us on a Monday!?

After the show, I packed our stuff away and then nipped back to the flat on my bike. After a short break I biked it over to the 3.30pm show and performed in that. My topical material was still light on the ground, but we had a few laughs. After the 3.30 show there's no time to do anything but hot-foot it to the 4.50 show, which I opened. I had fun bantering with the audience, and my normal scripted material also seemed to work. I was happy. I am bound to be happy. I'm in Edinburgh for the largest arts festival in the world. This is my 7th festival as a performer too, so this feels like a large part of my year.

I decided to follow my performing, which was done by 6, with a trip to see Jerry Springer the Opera. It's a brave move to go and see a show you know well and really like. The reason is that the Fringe performances can be crap. There's no two ways about it. Any dickheads can hire a Fringe venue and there's only so much filtering that people do to see if their venue is going to get a hit or a turkey of a show in it. So this cast had the power to either entertain me or totally piss me off. It's a 2 hour show and they could piss me off for two hours or piss me off by cutting it badly as well as performing it badly. It was also the first show I watched this year, so they could seriously set a low tone for my expectations.

Actually, they were bloody brilliant. A four star version of the show for sure. Excellent ensemble singing, largely excellent individual performances. It was a delight. All my favourite bits were done very well.

Time is now 8.30pm and I've not eaten since morning. I dragged myself back to the flat, dropped off the bike, took out my contact lenses, which were feeling like they'd been in too long, which they had, and then headed out for food. I went to the Elephant House, which is a cafe/bar which served me some good food. The waiter took my request for a table for one a bit oddly and put me alone on an 8 seater huge round table. I thanked him for emphasising my loneliness with that move. He said he'd be adding some strangers to the table. True to his word, he showed up with three further people about 5 minutes later. I have a stock line for situations like this "Hello, I'm Ashley and I'll be your stranger for this evening", I said to them. After one more quip about not having to split the bill, I left them alone.

It was funnier at the time. I'm sure.

Following food, I went out in search of a show. What I ended up with was a rather long walk - good exercise - a long chat on the phone with my girlfriend, curtailed by the phone battery, and then a return to pretty much where I started. It killed about 2 hours all in all.

I also managed to collect flyers for our show, so we can now give them to people and ask them to come. Yay.

The night ended with me watching a show called Shaggers. It's a show I've performed in before. It's meant to be jokes about sex. That's the simple premise. Tonight's one was... different... the particular mix of acts didn't gel with the audience. I'm not going to tell everyone who can read this blog, or get it through Facebook, exactly why I thought that. I'm not a reviewer and I'm not going to be critical. It's just a fact. I heard some people commenting on the show at a nearby convenience store. They felt it had started well and then dragged. Contact them for more details.

For those people who care about statistics. I've now performed 7 shows and seen 2.

That's all for now.

Sunday, August 16

Show Plugs

By popular non-request. Here is where to find me on stage regularly:

13.25 - The Counting House - The Seven Deadly Jokes
15.30 - The Hive - The Great Big Comedy Picnic - Pig Flu Extra
16.50 - Espionage - The Great Big Comedy Picnic

And other places - see here.

First Day In Edinburgh 2009

I'm now awake, obviously, otherwise how would I be writing this - I'm a geek, but I'm not the sort of uber geek who can blog in his sleep, or even transmit data directly from his dozing brain via WiFi. I've been awake about 15 minutes. I got to sleep around 2 last night and I've slept the deep deep sleep of the knackered.

A quick summary of yesterday might be in order. I woke awkwardly on the sofa - not quite long enough for my large frame. I grabbed a shower. Then I walked into town, via the sandwich shop where I bought water for my vitamin supplements. I went to the venue and put up some more posters for our show. I ended up chatting to Lynn Ruth Miller, a septegenarian Jewish San Franciscan who is doing about 4 shows a day all Fringe (I actually think she's working harder than me) and she invited me to do her show that night.

Then my comedy co-performer Hannah arrived and we went to her flat to rehearse the show. We needed the script a bit and we re-wrote things. The show is really developing well, I think.

After the rehearsal, Hannah had to go out flyering and I grabbed some papers and went for lunch. I had a flatbread panini type thing and a cappuccino. Then I noticed the time. 2.45... my first performance was at 3.30. I had to move. I needed to pick up my guitar from the flat and the distances were a bit too big to walk comfortably. I zoomed towards the flat on foot, stopping by the music shop to buy a nice, but slightly expensive, music stand.

I got to the car, unpacked the bike, reassembled the front wheel and then realised that I had both a rucksack AND a guitar to carry. I worked out how to clip my rucksack to the rucksack-style straps of the guitar and then I was fully loaded. I rushed to the venue and arrived by 3.20. Quite sweaty.

We set up the stage for the topical news show and then I rushed backstage to write something. I didn't really have anything new to perform. So I wrote a 4 verse Bob Dylan pastiche about wanting to have Jordan killed. It seemed the easiest thing to do. (This is the surely art of stand-up summarised in a few words "It seemed the easiest thing to do"). I worked out the chords in my head using a virtual guitar - that's the one in my mind, I don't have guitar hero on my phone or anything stupid like that. Turns out, I was right. When I hit the stage, I performed bits and bobs and this song was one of them. I announced it as a song that even I'd never heard before. Broadly speaking, it worked.

Then we rushed/cycled to the next venue and did The Great Big comedy Picnic. It was a busy room and I had fun with the audience.

Then I rushed back to the flat to drop off my rucksack. It was now 5.55. I also pumped up the tyres on my bike and then rushed to Hannah's for another rehearsal. We rehearsed well, and I left her at about 8pm, with the 9.10 show looming. I had time to cycle back to the flat, put the guitar in the car, and then drive back out to the venue where I'd be performing.

After a small amount of relaxing, the show was on, I performed a 20 minute set to mixed response from the audience, but I quite enjoyed myself. As soon as I left the stage, I drove across town to pick up Hannah and then I brought her back to do the next show in that room with me. Our performance went down ok, and I spent the whole of that show in the sound booth as the man operating the CD player and also doing the voice over for bits of the show which needed it.

Then, knackered, I bought a couple of sandwiches from co-op, drove back to the flat eating them, and then sat on the sofa in the flat with a big smoothie and chatted to the flat mates.

Going to bed was a lot like entering a coma.

I'm awake and ready to go now, though.

Monday, August 10

One Step Closer To An iPod

I've resisted the iPod for a long time. I think there's a dichotomy over such a device. On the one hand, I don't like the way that it feels like one company's proprietry format that has been used as a steam roller to build brand and get people to need the iPod. It's not that Apple have got the monopoly on the concept of the mp3 player, it's more that they've got a model with both iTunes and that kooky connector at the bottom of the iPod which makes people need their products. You want a need docking station to play mp3s, chances are it has an iPod connector on it? You want to get online music for an iPod, then iTunes is the only way...

... well, sort of.

I've been resisting, since I want more control over my music collection. I like my "brick" of an mp3 player, customised by myself to have loads of capacity (by the standards of 2006 when I customised it). It's certainly a handy tool for recording gigs. It seemed a cheaper option when I bought it. But it's non standard. That said, as a device which stores my several thousand mp3 exactly as I would store them on a computer hard drive (and do), it's exactly the device I think I want. But... well, I can't use it in my car. My car has the kooky iPod adapter.

This is the problem, I want the convenience. I want to just drop my mp3 player into a slot and get the music. But I don't want the iTunes nazis riding roughshod over the many 1000's of mp3s I've diligently ripped from legitimate CDs over the years, nor do I want to lose the various mp3s which came from no album, but which are mine to listen to (recordings I've made, or whatever). It's a tussle for control - I want to control my music and the iPod seems to want to tell me I'm wrong.

So what's with these bloomin' Apple standards? Well, the truth is that they've found a way to make the management of a music collection work. You have a tool which can allow you to buy new music, rip CDs, find music, work out what you like, and generally make your listening experience a good one. The reason they've got a prioprietry standard is precisely because they want to control the parameters and make the system work. I'm the spanner in the works, not Apple.

But I don't care.

Then I found Media Monkey. This is a tool which can organise my music collection in such a way that it stays where I want it, but is also meaningful to the likes of an iPod. It can also synchronise the collection onto the iPod for me, thus avoiding iTunes. On top of that, it will help me remove the "pollution" caused by the variously dumb ways I've ripped my music collection in the past. It contains an ID3 tags editor which works really well on a large set of mp3s.

ID3 tags are the thing which tells an mp3 player what a track is. It contains the original album, genre, artist, etc etc etc. When you're playing whole albums from a known directory, this is not that relevant. When you have an iPod which considers Albums to be more incidental, and thinks of music as a collection of tracks which "happen" to come from albums, then you need the album info to be right. As I've used a couple of CD rippers to get my (and I want to emphasise this) legitimate CD collection into mp3 format, and as some of those rippers have used publicly created databases of CDs to get their track listings, there have been various bits of crap added to my ID3 tags. It now matters to put this right.

Media Monkey seems to be the answer.

I just have to work out when to buy the iPod. Perhaps after Edinburgh. Though it would be nice to take it away to Edinburgh with me...

Extra note: I tried to download the trial version of Media Monkey - it ended up asking me to use "TrialPay" which is a scheme that makes you try out some product or other, or register for a free trial, in order to "pay" for use of something else. In this case I thought that registering with eMusic was a way of getting my trial Media Monkey - and why not - 25 free downloads of music... not bad? In the end, eMusic was a bit thin on the ground with actual albums I'd want to buy, so I have terminated my subscription (after downloading 25 things I rather do like)... but it turns out that my registration has given me the full-blown GOLD edition of Media Monkey. Result!

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