February 27, 2009

Lexicon of pop: V - venues

Filed under: music, editorial — benramster @ 10:53 pm

“Alright mate, Water Rats is cancelled due to a leak in the roof. Gig’s off.” When the plug is pulled it’s dissapointing for the band, as well as the audience. Some comfort can be taken from irony (a canal-inspired venue flooding) but not much. I found myself with an unexpected evening off which I spent in Barnes.

Be it cheery locals, or entering the ‘live’ room through the gents, each venue adds its own distinct flavour to a night out. Bruce Dickinson knew this when he told the crowd at Long Beach arena that Iron Maiden were in it for the music, not to “shag some bimbo in the car park.”

Riding that sentiment, here are my top five greatest music venues:

1. Madison Square Garden, New York. Led Zeppelin recorded their live album ‘The Song Remains the Same’ here over three nights. The venue was also eaten by Godzilla’s kids (1998) but the Zep link is cooler.

2. Rock in Rio festival. Not strictly a venue, Queen played to 250,000 people in 1985. This clip is great as the presenter greets you with “welcome to the pink palace once again.” Oo-er.

3. Plaza Del Toros, Madrid. The setting for AC/DC’s 1996 video ‘No Bull’. Memorable for the golf cart used by Angus Young to ride from one side of the stage, into the crowd, and back.

4. The Junction, Cambridge. A breeze-block venue in one of East Anglia’s crapper towns, the Junction will always have a place in my heart as I saw Elastica (a good band not yet famous) support Kingmaker (a shit band) there.   

5. Rock in Rio. Yes, no one was more surprised than I to find out that the Maiden have been there as well!

February 10, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: Voon, The Birth Of A Legend

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 6:07 pm

Myself and The Validators recently played a gig at De Montfort University Students’ Union, and were AGHAST at what we saw. Everyone seemed CLEAN, WELL FED and - shockingly - NOT DRUNK. The car park was full of CARS, belonging to STUDENTS, there was an ESTATE AGENT’S within the building itself for students who would rather buy a house than live in the luxuriously appointed (with EN SUITE BATHROOMS) halls of residence and the young people were discussing what JOBS they would accept when they left.

OH HOW DIFFERENT it all was when I was a student there, back in the dog days of Thatcher. The clientele of Leicester Polytechnic Students’ Union wore clothes drained to a uniform GREY through over-wearing and poor laundry, lived on a diet of cheap tinned  food and were DRUNK OUT OF THEIR MINDS on pound a pint “wine”. Nobody had a car, we all lived in run down terraced houses, four to a bathroom, and the idea of there being ANY jobs going when we left was laughable.

But - and I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear this - we were happy, THOUGH WE WERE POOR. I had some of the MOST GRATE times of my young life living in a little terraced house on Paton Street in Leicester with Neil, Cathy and Gaynor, eating own-brand foodstuffs and staying up late drinking (and occasionally attempting to smoke) TEA. We didn’t even have a telly  - eee, tell that to The Kids today and they won’t believe you - so we sat around talking a LOT, and one of the things we talked about most was ROCK MUSIC. When we’d moved in Neil and I had both claimed to have been in PUNK ROCK BANDS. If you’ve read recent entries you’ll know precisely how close to the truth this was in my case, and Neil was being similarly creative with the facts. His gigging career to that point amounted to, in his words, “hitting a tree in the playground and shouting ‘PUNK ROCK’”. Once we’d confessed this to each other it wasn’t long before we decided to form a real band ourselves.

This new band, at that point unnamed, was a major step up the musical ladder for me, as Neil could actually play an instrument. All right, he wasn’t the MOST tutored player of all time but I challenge ANYONE, even now, to play a Bar Chord with as much PUNK COMMITMENT as he could. I’d recently given up entirely on playing electric guitar myself as it was too HARD and asked other friends what instrument I should try. They gave me a choice - if I played Drums I’d never be out of offers for gainful employment, but would need to learn to drive a car, whereas bass was… well, playing the bass was a piece of piss.

Thus we ventured out to the local “second-hand” store and part exchanged the guitar Mileage had played in The Masters Of Nothing for a bass guitar which seemed to be made of two different instruments bolted together. That very afternoon we learnt TWO songs - “Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Junior (a song I loved so much I played the recorded version to my NAN… complete with SWEARS) and “New Year’s Day” by U2.

It later turned out that these were the only two songs Neil knew how to play so we very quickly progressed to writing our own material. Our first songs were from our “previous bands” - Neil had a tune called “Morgue Dancing” and I worked out a proper tune for “Rather Spooky” by The Masters Of Nothing - but we soon started writing songs together. We couldn’t afford to go out that much, and it wasn’t like there was any point studying was there?

The first fruits of our collaboration was a song called “She’s A Spaceman”. We LOVED this song and, I must say, I still do now. It’s all about someone going to see their girlfriend, who is a spaceman, and discovering she’s busy, so spending an afternoon drinking tea and eating biscuits with her mum. The biscuity section of the song takes up a surprisingly large amount of the song, almost as much as the chorus which went:

She’s A Spaceman
She’s A Spaceman
She’s A Spaceman
She’s A Space PERSON

It was very much a song of its time. We played and played and played and, before too long, we were ready to go and do so in front of other people. But where were we to make our debut? There were all sorts of gig venues in Leicester but we had no IDEA how to go about getting gigs at any of them and were far too scared to ask.

If only we knew someone who ran a club - a comedy club, say, where the booking policy involved inviting their friends to come and play…

February 5, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: My Exciting Life In Comedy (part two)

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 5:20 pm

Now that I had become a Stand-Up Comedian it was time to get some GIGS. There are two ways main ways to get decent comedy gigs. The first is to turn up at open mic nights, doing five minutes here and there until you’ve learnt your craft, hoping that a promoter will notice your improvements and start to book you as a first act, and from there move your way up the bill. Playing open mics can take years, years off struggle and determination, not being put off by audiences who don’t care or lack of payment, as you slowly and dedicatedly get better and better.

The second way is to book a room above a pub, invite all your friends to come and say you’re great, and call it a comedy club. Guess which one I went for? Clue: it was called “The Casbah Club”.

Having your own comedy club is GRATE, but if you do it regularly you do tend to need some material, and luckily i had a PAL to help me. I’d first met Mr Simon Wilkinson to speak to in WHSMiths, Leicester where, at the age of 19, he was buying a copy of “Perfect Homes”. Some 20 years later i have STILL yet to tire of reminding him about this.

Simon was ALSO a member of the Poly Poor Theatre Society, and so we ended up doing a SKETCH together in that year’s Rag Revue, one called “Let’s Do Blues” which was a very VERY “A Bit Of Fry & Laurie” sort of affair. It was meant to be a TV show explaining “The Blues” but it very quickly degenerated it me BELLOWING the Masters Of Nothing’s song “Decapitated Blues”, accompanied by an over-excited Simon on Electrical Guitar.

We had so much fun doing this that we decided to become a DOUBLE ACT, and ended up spending a VERY happy year hosting our comedy club. It really was BRILLIANT fun, especially when we settled on a permanent venue and it became a REGULAR event. This meant we could have CATCHPHRASES and, instead of doing brand new material, we could do the same sketches every month with very tiny re-writes. We were, basically, doing The Fast Show ten years ahead of it’s time and, it must be said, significantly less funnily. This didn’t matter of course, as it was just our friends in the audience who would laugh ANYWAY.

This was all well and good until we FORGOT that they were just laughing because they were our friends and came to believe we were OBJECTIVELY HILARIOUS, and so accepted a PROPER GIG at a proper Comedy Venue. Our friend Rak, now The UK’s Leading Voiceover Artiste, was just starting his glittering career and had booked himself some proper stand-up gigs. He’d got one at the Nottingham Playhouse and when the normal support act dropped out he managed to get us on the bill.

We arrived with BIG DREAMS of a BIG BREAK - a comedy impressario was BOUND to be there, was BOUND to SPOT us, and we’d soon be faced with the DILEMMA of what to do - finish our Polytechnic Degrees or throw it all way for a shot at THE BIG TIME?

We needn’t have worried, as we DIED on our ARSES. Stuff that had seemed funny at The Casbah suddenly WASN’T in front of a real live audience. One of our big BITS was “Shop Cop”, which basically went like this:

ME: I’m just off to the loo (RUNS OFF)
SIMON: Oh, that’s a shame, because now it’s Mark’s favourite part of the show - it’s time for SHOP COP!
(enter ME, with a carrier bag on my head)
SIMON: Hello Shop Cop!
ME: Hello Simon, and Hello Shoppers Everywhere!
SIMON: And what have you been looking into this week, Shop Cop?
ME: I’ve been looking into packets of cornflakes.
ME: They were full of cornflakes.
SIMON: Thanks Shop Cop!
ME: Thank you Simon, and thank you shoppers everywhere! (RUNS OFF)
SIMON: I wonder where Mark has gone?
ME: Hello Simon, I’m back. Now, it’s time for my favourite part of the show - it’s time for SHOP COP!
SIMON: Oh dear, I’m afraid we’ve done it already.
ME: What? (hits Simon)

I’ve just typed that all out in one go, almost as if we did it SO MANY TIMES that it’s still lodged in my memory. And I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing as I am - how on EARTH could that NOT have launched two fabulous comedy careers? I know, we were shocked too.

After about 10 minutes of this we slunk off, and spent the whole journey back to Leicester complaining to each other about the audience being “dead” (despite the fact that they laughed a LOT at every body else). We decided it was THEIR fault, not ours, and resolved to go back to playing only our OWN gigs until The World was ready for us.

This was a REALLY good idea, both for us AND for The World, because while we waited something ELSE started happening that would change my life forever and, perhaps more importantly, allow The World Of Comedy to carry on without me.

The clarion call of ROCK was about to sound, and I would be POWERLESS to stop myself from answering it. For LO! coming over the horizon was the MIGHTY LEGEND that was the band VOON!

February 3, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: My Exciting Life In Comedy (part one)

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 5:35 pm

All the way through sixth form I was desperately looking forward to University. I thought it would be a place where Artistic Types would be free to be as fancy and/or poncey as they liked, a mass assemblage of poets and artistes, swapping high level chat over glasses of red wine and forging partnerships that, within weeks of graduation, would become the basis of a whole new generation of WRITERS.


Imagine my disappointment, then, when I found out it was exactly like school except with a bar actually INSIDE it. Mind you, maybe that’s what you get when you end up at Leicester Polytechnic.


Undeterred… well, deterred a bit, I decided to have a go at acting out the lifestyle I’d read so much about in Monty Python and Comic Strip biographies, and began submitting sketches to the Rag Society. I thought that’s what everybody would be doing, and would be constantly surprised of a Monday morning when I went to drop off my latest batch of (rather odd) comedy sketches in the Rag pigeon hole to find it completely empty. Little did I know that my drop-offs had become a bizarre source of excitement to the organising committee, and when they eventually met me they were rather taken aback to find out that I wasn’t a crazed maniac with wild burning eyes and a life-expectancy measurable in days, but actually a rather quiet youth from Peterborough. Wearing a cardigan.


Still, they did use a couple of my sketches and through that I got more and more involved in the drama society, which was called The Poly Poor Theatre Company. It was the 1980s, that’s the sort of name we used to give things back then.


I met loads of people through Poly Poor, directly and indirectly, many of whom I’m still best pals with now, including some who would be VITALLY IMPORTANT to me joining a band at all. At this point though I was still intent on becoming a comedian, like Ben Elton, so that, like Ben Elton, I could then move on to scriptwriting. At one point it seemed like this might actually HAPPEN, when I met a gentleman called Robert Rackstraw. Rak, as we all called him, is now, according to Wikipedia “one of the UK’s leading male voice actors” and has been in LOADS of things you’ve actually heard of, like Bob The Builder, but back then he was just starting out, writing scripts and doing voices for local radio. He pretty much took me under his wing and gave me LOADS of advice on places to send my stuff too, and as a result of this I pretty quickly got a script accepted by BBC Manchester.


It was for a show starring the comedy legend Arthur Brown, and I even got to go up to Manchester one day for a brain-storming session. My main memory is that there was one, very pretty, actress who had LOTS of ideas which we all had to be very polite about, especially when she started doing extraordinarily dodgy, borderline racist, accents. I also had a try-out to write for an up and coming young presenter called Jonathan Ross, but for some reason (by that point, probably BEER) never sent back the scripts in time.


The trouble was that despite myself I’d had my eyes opened to a much more exciting life than just sitting in my bedsit with a typewriter. I’d FINALLY started drinking properly and had embarked on my lifelong love affair with BEER and PUBS and, through this, had realised that going out and having friends was a LOT more fun than typing snide jokes about people. Even better, I’d found a way to COMBINE this with my ongoing appreciation of SHOWING OFF. I had become a STAND UP COMEDIAN!

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