Sunday work and Wednesday hi-kicks.
I like Sunday afternoons.
When I was a kid, I think a whole generation of us hated Sundays – a vaguely stupified day, where youngsters the country over were unable to really go anywhere, do anything, or watch anything decent on telly. And all the time knowing it would soon be Sunday night and you’d be told to get your uniform together for – utter depression – Monday morning school.
But now, the world is different. Shops are open. I don’t have to go to school any more. And telly is equally rubbish any day of the week. Is this progress? Feels like it for me.
Sunday afternoons now lead into long Sunday evenings and Sunday evenings tend to be when we feel able to sit down with a decent Brain Film. You know – stuff you have to concentrate on, or bleak French productions with subtitles you basically don’t understand. Refreshes the old cerebellum for Monday. Reminds me I’m not completely brain-dead just yet, despite the endless comfort food of Friends repeats and Radio 2 in the afternoon. Like popping on some mincing Baroque from time to time, it’s encouraging to periodically pretend you’re clever.
Actually, I’ve often treated Saturdays as the day off this year, the time to aim not to work – a proper Sabbath. Sundays can be very peopley and feel more kinetic, which may be why my brain feels strangely more able to cope with Franco-German cinema by tea time. On Saturday tea time what I want is Doctor Who with inane banter and a curry.
This Sunday, Caroline and I wandered past the garden and saw our much-loved neighbour, Mary, sitting on an old bench in the middle of her lawn, nursing a rusty nail hole in her foot. A couple of forlorn planks of splintered shed lay beside her on the grass, next to a claw hammer and a clawed-at packet cigarettes. Her old shed, depite it’s shabby chic, however, looked resiliently standing.
We glanced at eachother with patronising tips of the head, then turned to Mary.
“Do you want a hand?” I asked politely.
“Do you want some savlon?” Caroline asked politely.
“No, no, I’m fine” Mary answered politely. Then added: “God, yes.”
We put the kettle on and put the gardening gloves on and put our comedy-old clothes on and it was all I could do to hold Caroline back, out there in the Sunday autumn sunshine.
“I didn’t realise you could HIT it…” Mary grinned.
“This is in my top five list of favourite things to do ever” Caroline beamed, swinging the hammer with a neighbourhood-shaking smash.
As we demolished the old shack, enjoying ourselves in showers of splinters far more than if we’d been working in our respective gardens separately, I pulled at old nails and reflected on how nice it was to get some dirt under my own nails and do something outside, after a week of intense comings and goings, interspersed with intense sittings-around…
Getting back up to Birmingham on Wednesday morning was straightforward enough, arriving at the stage door of the Alexandra Theatre in midlands drizzle, only twenty minutes or so behind target. David Rann, artist co-ordinator for the Give Back Project, was there at the top of the windy little staircase with a clipboard.
“Hi, mate – you’re in with Mowglee, next floor up” he smiled. Bands of various haircuts were squeezing past eachother on the stairs and vans were double parking up the road outside, but as I carried my solitary keyboard and x-stand up into the spiralling loft of the Alex, everything around me felt pretty chilled.
Maybe it was just me projecting. I’ve spent so long infront of a Mac, either tickling typography or shuffling sound files, it occured to me I’d quite forgotten how at home I feel in a theatre.
As the day stretched out, I’d find myself stalking the corners and rafters of this old showhome as though I owned the place, and it took me some hours to realise this. I think I was standing in the wings just before curtain up, in fact, when it struck me I’d been subtly talking to the other acts as though trying to welcome them into my home – stopping just short of actually offering them a sherry and explaining that they could help themselves to anything in the fridge.
What a cheeky blighter, I thought, watching the stage lights spread across the boards that night; I’m a guest here too. I’ve never been here before.
Ah, but that was what was interesting about the whole day – it was a music event, but it felt much more like a theatre event. And this suited me fine.
Mum and Dad, in case you don’t know (and really, why should you) were professional singers. They met and travelled the world with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, founded by Mr Richard himelf, theatre impressario and mate of Gilbert and Sullivan. Who are not the same thing as Gilbert and George. Not at all. Every time the company rolled into the West Midlands, it set up shop in the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, where my mother would get into her fairy wings and my father would pull on his tights for another prance through Ruddigore, or somesuch. Trust me, the stories. The boys had a telly in the dressing room under the stage on one occation, watching a cip final. Goals were apparently not always timed with orchestral numbers, much to the stage manager’s fury, apparently.
I did wonder if I’d spot any Peach graphiti as I peered around in the shadows.
Momo’s music is probably more about theatre than pop music anyway – and goodness knows I don’t know how to be rockstar cool on stage. But the whole workings of a theatre production make sense to me, and I think it’s useful to keep it in mind when putting on a gig. Professional, I guess. Organised. And most importantly, very Luvvie.
From prowling the wings, to running along the seats up in the gods, to peeping past the dressing rooms under the stage – darlings, I felt at home hanging around the Alex for an afternoon. And as I first walked into the dressing room with my name on it, under the word ‘Mowglee’, I knew it would be a fun, weird day out in Birmingham. The four indie poppers from Brum turned and grinned as I walked in and demanded chocolates.
I’ve gigged and performed plenty of times before. Enough perhaps to forget how long it’s actually been since I was on a stage or practicing my mike technique infront of an audience. This was just another on-going gig for many of the acts, but as Marcus, Patrick, George and Gabriel opened the lemon slices, these seasoned performers looked a little bemused.
“It’s a big event, but it’s hard to know what’s going to happen out front” Patrick said, dealing some cards and inviting Caroline and I to sit in. Caroline has a thing about cards but I have a thing about exploring old theatres, so I let her play to her competitive instincts while I opened the kettle chips.
“Yeah, I know” I said, grabbing a handful and moving to the door, “I think we have to see this as like a TV show; we can’t really take control of the show or the crowd, we have to turn up get on, play and get off as efficiently as possible. It’s weird, but it’s the thing for this. Watch my wife, she’ll clean you out, by the way.”
And it was the thing for this. The organisation behind getting eighteen bands, many of them inexperienced, on and off smoothly with slick segues was no easy task, and it would demand concentration from everyone.
In the event, it moved through amazingly well, especially considering this was a first event for this combination of people. We all soundchecked through the afternoon, grabbing conversations with eachother and swapping genres as we each took the stage. The acts all had professional potential and one or two voices or acts particularly stood out. But no-one else was making Electro, I realised as I climbed the steps to join the Give Back dancers. I hoped the audience wouldn’t find the opening number misleading.
Because yes, Momo:timo and the Give Back dancers were opening the show. The first thing the bemused public would see of the very first ever Give Back Project event would be some floppy haired tit, dressed vaguely like the owner of the TARDIS, shouting: “Hey you! Yes you, right there in your seat – we just KNOW you’re going to love this. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed; we know you want some, because we know you’re WEAK…” in obscure live homage to the opening sample of Sweetseeker.
Well, although they may have had some adjustments to make to get used to the real stage setting of their performance, on the night the dancers did a great job of making Momo:timo look much more interesting on stage. I nearly took a foot in the teeth a couple of times, but this was only because it can be a bit of a trick trying to engage audience members two storeys above you in the inpenetrable darness beyond the footlights, while avoiding tripping over wires that would send you vaulting smoothly into the orchestra pit, or walking into ten people throwing themselves at your tottering keyboard, or remembering your queues, or your words or your best I Know What I’m Doing expression.
But, in truth, it was the easiest gig I’ve ever done. Really. Caroline commented on it first. All I had to do was turn up with one keyboard, a backing tape and the usual cheeky willingness to be myself infront of people. The hard work was done by the much-drilled dancers, whose dressing room looked like an exciting and theatrical place to have your hair starched to within an inch of its life, every time I popped in. The well-oiled production team made the show happen, while a very nice lady called Nicky, from BBC Birmingham or somewhere, gave me queues to be funny in a little interview after my second number. Then Caroline drove me home to Mike and Emma’s in Worcester.
What effort did I make, exactly?
Afterwards, packing the gear and roaming the Mailbox for an after-show drink that would have me smashed silly in moments, spilled as it was into a stomach lined with a few biscuits, a few crisps and a small slice of lemon sponge, we heard that the theatre had been reasonably filled and the show had been positively received by audience members.
But for me, the best comment of the night – the one to take home and write on a mental post-it note – was from a girl I passed in the foyer as people were leaving. She looked at me as I approached and simply blurted out: “You’re really funny!”
Well quite. Hours of painstaking studio work dims in the light of such a compliment.
We still don’t know why exactly the NIA show, for which this was a kind of rehearsal, has been cancelled. I think the Give Back team are licking their wounds after so much work.
Shame, of course, as so much effort went into the show and it ran through very professionally. All I know is, that apart from anything else, it gave me the chance to make friends with Mowglee, who I fully intend to hang around a theatre with again as soon as possible. We chewed over life and creativity and fascial hair and styling gel in a dressing room for much of the day, when Caroline wasn’t beating them at Rummy, and they played a significant part in making our Funny Day Out In Birmingham so enjoyable.
I also met countless other people, making a lot of new MySpace friends and getting a fair amount of un-asked-for encouragement.
As we slept in on the Thursday, and hung around with Mike for a gloriously well-timed Sick Day (not that I was, literally, thank goodness) in a coffee shop in Worcester, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to have a few enforced days off, even if I did have to work until 2.00am the night before, in order to free up Momo to come prat about in the Midlands. Sharing the experience with Mike and Emma in particular was just the right thing; if there’s one person who’s been made to carry my gear and listen to my demos almost as much as Caroline over the last seventeen years, it would be Mike, poor guy.
So, hey. The unforgivably fab thing about working for Momo is that you’re never quite sure what you’ll be working on next. From property advertising, to website design, to vaudeville karaoke and garden clearance all in one week.
Still, it’ll be Sunday afternoon again soon.