All entries for August 2013

August 25, 2013

The Frank Turner arena tour and the changing nature of a live show

So today Frank Turner announced a UK tour. Of arena venues. And despite being my favourite act to see live over the past five years, I find myself not being not desperately excited about getting tickets. But bear with me, this isn’t a venue-size/popularity thing. There’s something more going on that I’m trying to figure out.

It started at the last Frank Turner gig I went to, when for the first time in about ten gigs, a mosh-pit formed, right in front of me. Which is fine. Not my sort of thing – I like a bit of a dance but throwing myself into other people doesn’t really do it for me. It’s also a bit annoying when it forms right in front of you as you can’t ignore it (without risking becoming part of it) but you can just move. You get a worse view maybe but it’s not my place to tell people how they should be enjoying the music they all paid to come and see too. Hell, I was one of the annoying kids jumping around to James in 2001 while the fans from 1991 looked on mildly perturbed.

But then, towards the end of the set, he played I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous, for the fans who had been with him for a long time. And I realised something interesting: you can’t mosh to Prufrock.

The first time I saw Frank live, he spent as much time on stage playing solo as he did with a band. As the shows have gotten bigger that’s mostly vanished and the band and setlist louder and rockier. And less of something I want to see.

Now I’m happy for artists to change and evolve, and I don’t expect or even want them to cater for me at the expense of doing what they want to do. But one does get a feeling of losing something. Had my last Frank Turner show been my first, I probably wouldn’t have gone back. I’d have accepted it as “not really for me” and moved on. But when you’ve enjoyed it previously and seen it change, you feel your missing out a bit. Ironic in the case of Frank Turner as I’m sure there’s a ton of Million Dead fans that felt let down when he first picked up an acoustic guitar.

But what I do wonder is how much of this change is down to Frank, and how much is down to a perceived necessity to do things this way in order to play larger venues and to cater to a crowd that want to mosh themselves silly. Indeed, the latest album, Tape Deck Heart, is possibly the slowest and most restrained album yet. Which is perhaps why only two or three songs from it have been regularly making the live setlist.

This isn’t a solo versus band thing either. The full band versions of St. Christopher is Coming Home, Journey of the Magi and Father’s Day are hauntingly beautiful in a way that can’t be done solo, but generally absent from the set in favour of the faster, rockier numbers. And even within the same songs, the live arrangements are getting less and less on the folk end of the scale and moving further to the punk/rock end.

I’m trying very hard not to sound like too much of a cock in writing this, as I’m very aware it could easily be seen as just whining that an artist isn’t do what I want him to do.

But my point is more that there’s been a fundamental change in how Frank performs live as he’s moved to larger venues, and that’s why I might give the next tour a pass. He’s still one of my favourite singer-songwriters ever, and I’ll continue to get very excited about new album launches and so on, but perhaps the live show just isn’t for me any more. Or perhaps I’m just getting old.


August 05, 2013

Edinburgh Fringe 2013 picks for Londoners

Or The Edinburgh Fringe 2013 guide for people that live in London and are going to Edinburgh and want to see acts that aren’t the same people they see in London all year round

My social life, and hence the comedy I see, is split about 50/50 between the Midlands and London, and while many performers cross over between the two, there are plenty of London acts that I never see anywhere outside of London, and plenty of acts from around the rest of the country that rarely perform in London.

Edinburgh, of course, is where these two groups collide. So rather than write up regular Fringe recommendations, this is a list for Londoners traveling up to Edinburgh that want to see great acts that the rest of the country know are great, but that aren’t on in London all the time. We all know you’re going to go see Simon Munnery and James Acaster and John-Luke Roberts and Tony Law regardless, even though they did ten previews in London and will be performing the show there later in the year anyway.

A few caveats: there are some great Midlands-based acts that aren’t on this list purely because they perform in London so much that you’ve heard of them already: the likes of Gary Delaney, Joe Lycett and such. There’s also bound to be some people I’ve forgotten, sorry! It’s also entirely coincidental that most of these shows are free, and only one costs more than a tenner even on weekends. But it might mean something.

Paul Savage – Cheerful Shambles
Dragonfly, 16:20, Free

I’ve seen Paul go from completely new act to seasoned professional over many years, and this is his first solo Edinburgh hour and well worth catching. Upbeat, friendly, relatable – and very funny. It’s on at just the right time of day too for some fun light-hearted jokes and observations. He’s an act that continues to get better and better so this straight-forward, unpretentious stand-up show is a great way to fill that awkward 4pm gap in your afternoon schedule.

You can also see Paul in another show – The 3rd Annual Free Tea And Biscuits Show, The Speakeasy, 12:05, Free with the wonderful Aaron Twitchen, another of my favourite Midlands acts, and some great guest headliners along with the inevitable free tea and biscuits.

Joke Thieves
Laughing Horse @ Espionage, 22:00, Free

This is Will Mars’ new concept comedy night and is already consistently selling out. The premise is simple: the first half of the show comics perform five minute sets. In the second half, they perform the set of the act that was on before them.

The brilliance of this will lie in watching different comics subvert and mess with a wonderfully simple formula to create the sort of one-off comedy moments you just won’t get anywhere else. And for a comedy nerd it’s like a dream come true. This is the one thing I’m most gutted to be missing seeing in Edinburgh this year but fingers crossed I can bring it to Leamington at some point.

Will also has a great solo show (Will Mars: Americana, Laughing Horse @ Meadow Bar, 19:30, Free) that I very much recommend. You’ll probably be offended by it, but that’s kinda what I like about it – there’s a dark nihilism to it where Will comes across a bit like a passive-aggressive Jerry Sadowitz. It’s funny, but if you’re a comedy geek you’ll have fun after the show deconstructing why certain bits rubbed you the wrong way.

Tom Binns Does Ivan Brackenbury and Others
Heroes @ The Hive, 21:00, Free

Tom is bringing the wonderful Ian D Montfort to the Fringe elsewhere (Pleasance Courtyard, 18:40, £11.50-£14.50) and if you’ve not already seen that character or heard him on Radio 2 you really really should. But more excitingly this year there’s a free show featuring best of Ivan Brackenbury (his old Perrier-nominated hospital radio DJ character) plus a first look at some of the new stuff he’s working on.

The new stuff is more what you might consider ‘traditional’ stand-up, but Tom still brings a unique twist to it. Given that the last two things Tom did in the comedy world have been major hits, this is a great chance to see the start of something new. Plus most of the show is Ivan Brackenbury and if you weren’t around six years ago when he was a big deal then getting to see it for free this year is a no-brainer.

Sally Anne Hayward – Hey Follower!
The Stand Comedy Club II, 16:50, £7-£8

Sally is a fantastic comic who has been doing the Fringe for a long time and is, frankly, brilliant at it. There’s some wonderful material in her new show and she should be far more popular than she is. Friendly, laid-back and probably the most traditional show I’m recommending here but dammit sometimes you just need a good solid hour of funny stories and jokes.




Diane Spencer: Hurricane Diane
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 17:45, £8 – £9.50

High-energy, over-the-top, ridiculous, somewhat filthy, storytelling. At one point I wasn’t sure how much of Diane’s stories to believe, but then she posted photographic evidence on Twitter and it turns out her life is genuinely that weird.

She’s actually my new go-to response for when idiots tell me “women comedians aren’t funny” (because apparently Sarah Millican “doesn’t count” now) – and if you’re not sure all three of her previous shows are up on YouTube in their entirety (and legitimately) so why not find out how right I am.



James Cook: Adventures On Air
Laughing Horse @ Jekyll & Hyde, 21:00 (18-25 only), Free

I’m fairly sure this is James’ first full-length solo stand-up show in Edinburgh (being a follow-up to last year’s fictional outing, Beatrice’s Fortnight at The Frozen Ballroom) which is utterly ridiculous. He’s one of the best stand-ups I’ve ever seen with the pacing and timing of someone who’s been doing this twice as long as he has. The way he can control an audience is astounding. If you’re in Edinburgh the one week this is on you have to go.

James is also part of a second show – Assemble: The Lovely Men, Laughing Horse @ Jekyll & Hyde, 21:00 (5-17 only), Free – a four-man sketch show that I haven’t seen so can’t outright recommend, but I’m sure will be brilliant. And lovely. And have men in it. And sketches.


Owen Niblock – Calculating Comedy
Ryan’s Bar, 1.15pm, Free

You know that feeling you get sometimes in Edinburgh? That you’re having a lot of fun but you’d also like to learn a bit about computational humour and AI while laughing at some point?

Shows combining comedy and science are all the rage these days (especially down in that London) but Owen has been doing this sort of stuff before Robin Ince made it ‘cool’. He doesn’t just talk about computational humour, he a computer science graduate with a genuine robotic double-act partner.

This is pretty much the ultimate science nerd show. At one point he even puts the source code up on the projector.

Owen also has a second show, and I’d love to tell you it’s more ‘normal’ but, well, maybe not. It’s a greatest hits/compilation show of Owen’s club material. But Owen doesn’t tend to play normal clubs. It’s somewhere at the intersection of a venn diagram of Simon Munnery, Boothby Graffoe and Luke Wright (Twisted Whimsy, Voodoo Rooms, 3.40pm, Free).


The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society Bonanza
Laughing Horse @ The White Horse, 15:30, Free

These guys won the Malcolm Hardee award a couple of years ago and despite that they’re still not hugely popular, even amongst most comedy nerds who should love their weird deconstructionist approach. In writing this I’m realising why: the show is literally impossible to explain in writing. Also Stewart Lee hasn’t seen them and put them on TV yet, but he would if he had.

Johnny Sorrow is a Midlands-circuit legend, an old school working mens’ club comic trying to make it on the alternative circuit, a character which he pulls apart wonderfully. Tim Swann is a one-liner act with about three jokes. This show adds in a bunch of weirdness and pig-masks on top of that to make something… oh I don’t know. I really suggest seeing this on the same day you go to see Tony Law, just because it makes him look mainstream.

Honorary mention

Peacock & Gamble: Heart-throbs
Pleasance Courtyard (the bit outside on the left before you go in but get tickets from the box office inside please thankyou), 21:45, £8-£11

These guys don’t really count, as they’re London-based and do a ton of gigs in London, but despite that they don’t appear to be on the radar of any London comedy fans I know, and don’t tend to perform at those sort of gigs, hence aren’t in the club and so warrant a mention here. Also they’re bloody brilliant.

See, this isn’t a sketch show. Okay, it does have things sort of identifiable as sketches in it, but primarily this is a good old-fashioned double-act. A genuine, two blokes on a stage playing off each other like double-acts used to be before they basically died out. It’s wonderful, silly, joyous stuff, and I can’t write too much because I haven’t see this year’s show but I’m sure it’ll be good.

Don’t see:

Matt Richardson: Hometown Hero
Pleasance Courtyard, 20:30, CANCELLED

So yeah, Matt first performed this show nearly two years in Leicester and it won an award. He’s been honing and improving it ever since, getting ready for his solo Edinburgh debut. Matt’s a natural performer, wonderfully likeable, engaging, full of energy. The recommendation here was going to be “go see him before he becomes the next big thing and is all over TV”.

But typical Matt – he went and became the next big thing earlier in the year and got the job replacing Olly Murs on The Xtra Factor, so now you can’t see him in Edinburgh. So you already missed your chance, bad luck!


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