A Tale of Two Cities, or one city and one village

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

             At this stage of my career, for lack of a better word, it’s nice to just have a full weekend of work, for as it stands right now, the next time I have that guaranteed will be in San Francisco the last weekend in September. I try not to worry too much about it, as many of my gigs this year have surfaced within a week of them actually happening, both of last weekend’s falling into that category. While that seems on the surface a haphazard way of doing things, someone seems to be looking out for me, because I’ve managed to keep solvent, and not in debt.

               So a week ago Saturday, my agent told me I’d be playing in Brighton on the 14th, and on Wednesday, the comedian Miles Crawford, who has begun his own chain of comedy venues, called me for a gig on Friday the 13th in the little village of Headley, in Surrey. Great, and both gigs less than 90 minutes away. 

                Well, less than 90 minutes if there’s no road works or accidents or other delays. Hahhahahaha! Actually, to get to Headley, which is only about 20 miles from central London, requires navigating the M25, the London orbital motorway, that needs only one stalled car or lane closure, and life as we know it comes to an end. On Friday nights, the rush hour usually ends about 8:00-8:30. So the trip from Dagenham to the Cock Inn, (not even an original idea; I played a place in San Francisco with the name Cock’s Inn in the 70s) took nearly two hours and involved a lot of swearing.

                The show started late and I was closing anyway, so I still arrived in plenty of time. I love gigs like this one, and you wonder how the bookers find these TOWNS, let alone these venues. I’ve done a few at these little villages where most of the people in the audience know each other, and they’re so incredibly grateful that we’ve brought our Big City slick selves to their little hamlet, their response is almost always fantastic, even if the numbers are small, as they were in Headley. I didn’t get an encore, but stayed on for a good 40 minutes, buoyed along by a woman asking me if I was married. I’ve gotten strange requests before, but never that one, maybe because when I WAS married, I always wore a ring onstage. 

                   The only downer to that whole night was trying to navigate country roads after it’s dark and realizing that by missing just one directional sign which may or may not have existed, I wound up going entirely opposite the way I wanted to go, and didn’t realize it until I’d gone about three miles. A lot more swearing and shouting, but good for the vocal cords maybe.

                    The only problem getting to Brighton the next night was that the main southbound passageway out of Central London, the Blackwell Tunnel, has been closed every weekend for major repairs, which means that the nearest way to cross the Thames is the QE2 Bridge, which I have to use regardless. So normally on Saturdays it would take 10 minutes to cross, but with the increased volume of diverted traffic, it took 30. Then just before my exit from M25 to head south to Brighton, there was an overturned hay truck to close a lane, and more swearing.

                      Still got to Brighton way earlier than I needed, and since the club, The Funky Fish, was on the seafront, parking was virtually non-existent. So I found illegal parking, took my guitar with me to the venue, and it wasn’t open yet, but the omen was already there: A stag party of about 15, the intended groom wearing a banana suit with filthy graffiti and pictures already adorning his embarrassing costume.  His name was Eric, and no one seemed to get it when I said “Oh, like the actor Eric Banana?” Even worse was a guy who said, “Hey, wow, is that a guitar? You know, I play, maybe we could have a blues jam.” I tried to think of things I’d like less to do at that moment; drink my own urine, jump in front of a bus, listen to a marathon of Paula Abdul records?  I walked back to my car, decided to stay there until I was sure the venue was open, and these men who appeared to have been drinking since, oh, Tuesday, were safely inside and maybe being given extremely watered-down drinks.

                    The club managers told me I could park on the main road, on double yellow lines, directly in front of the club, on a Saturday night. There were no other cars parked on that side of the street, but they assured me they been doing it themselves for ten years. OK, so happily they proved to not be jerking me around, my car wasn’t clamped, or towed  or ticketed. But then there was the gig itself.

                   There would be two intervals, one after each act, so the crowd would have plenty of opportunity to get more pissed. The first act was a young Asian who lived in Birmingham, was still going to train it back into London to do a ten-minute, unpaid spot at The Comedy Store, then take a late-night coach back to Birmingham. Got to admire the commitment! I did that kind of stuff when I first started working UK, but I was also not doing any freebies, and most of my double and triple headers were all in London.

                      And speaking of commitments, the second act was a character-driven act, which if they didn’t like the character, it would be a LONG 20 minutes. At first they hated him, but eventually warmed up to him. I hate following an act that does really well, but it’s even worse following an act that stinks up the place, for then you have to assure the crowd that you’re the “anti-that-guy” before you do what you set out to do. Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with either. I only had to deal with a crowd that was tiring fast, and though it was only 9:30, there were bodies falling.

                       I didn’t have the fun I’d had in Headley, but there were still silly moments, plus it was done early. I was back on the road at 10:00, back home at 11:15, the only journey where there were no problems. 

                      I’ve been doing this almost 25 years, and it’s almost 10 years to the day that I had my first gig in UK, and while it takes more out of me than it might have a few years ago, and the work is less plentiful than it once was, there is still that rush of knowing that I can still be entertaining to a group of drunk strangers. Drunk friends would probably be better, but picky picky. I’ll keep doing it at least until I physically feel I can’t, or until I find another career to take me into the sunset. There is one looming, the coming weeks will tell more.   



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