I’m still trying to understand what just happened. Part of me thinks maybe instead of fathoming it, I should just accept it – because there are so many chance happenings involved. This is the story of how I ended up doing my first ever compere spot, in London, to 900 people, all of them there to see my favourite band, Combichrist, on the last date of their UK tour. This might turn into a bit of a novel…
I worked as crew at the first Dark City Festival in Edinburgh in 2004, and went back to do the second in 2005. Before the gig, I picked up CDs from a few bands on the bill with whom I was unfamiliar. This got me into Rotersand and meant I also pre-ordered the then-new CC album “Everybody Hates You.” What I remember about the latter is, I put it on my stereo, sat on my bed, and as soon as the first song kicked in I realised it needed to be much louder, so I jumped up, restarted it, and bumped the volume up full. Years later, someone said it was really cool that I’d fell in love with them from the very first time I ever heard them. Which hadn’t even occurred to me. This was my introduction to them, ten seconds of uncertainty and then THAT beat:
At the gig, Andy – singer and sole-songwriter – walked into the room during set-up, and he asked the promoter “Is there any food?” “Food?” “Yes, Europeans eat food too.” He reminded me hugely, in terms of humour, of my friend Jorgen, the only other Norwegian I knew at the time, since we studied together. I decided I liked him. The set-up for Combi at that point was a mic, two banners, and an Apple with a midi keyboard, so the changeover was really simple and Andy was very relaxed about the whole thing – totally down to earth and easygoing. The gig was brilliant, and it so happened that a few months later I was working in New York state when CC were playing in NYC, and I managed to get up to see them. When they came back to the UK later that year, 2005, they only played London, and I made the journey down to see them. Since then, I have crewed almost every show Andy has done in Edinburgh, gone to every single London gig too, and when they played Glasgow instead of Edinburgh and I couldn’t get on the crew, I saw them four times in seven days instead. I made friends with people at the gigs, and this year, this tour, I went back to Manchester as well as Glasgow and London. As of yesterday, I have seen them 19 times in 6 years, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Nottingham, and New York City. They tour to the UK at least once a year, and have expanded into a full live band – two drummers, keys and frontman. All of them with rock/metal backgrounds. Combichrist is metal without guitars. Like the Chemical Brothers might sound if they had Slayer‘s hatred.
I knew from the off that when the metal kids heard them they’d get massive, and two years back the massive German industrial metal band Rammstein took them on tour throughout the world as main support. So they went from playing to 300 or 400 a night to playing arenas to 20,000. When they came to the UK, I couldn’t get a long-sold-out ticket, but managed to arrange to travel to Manchester with two litres of vodka and a bottle of Jagermeister in return for entry to the gig. These are the kind of things I do that I would think were crazy if I stopped to think about them.
Manchester was my first gig on this tour, on Thursday, and I took the train down on the day – getting the 1am bus back home. I’d met some cool folk at the previous Manc gig last year and, having spoken to them on facebook since, went back to meet up with them this year too. Main support Mortiis kept coming to the barrier at the front of the tiny stage and pouring bottled water over his dreadlocks – and mostly over me and my friend, who was less than delighted. At the Glasgow gig, on the Friday, I stood at the other side of the stage to avoid him, and he switched sides too so I got just as soaked. In Glasgow, though, he had the full run of the barrier along the front of the (bigger) stage, and he kept coming down to and leaning right into the crowd. I soon learned to step back and try to avoid a soaking. It was during one of these enthusiastic crowd-engaging moments that he headbanged a little too energetically, and managed to headbutt me spectacularly – smacking his skull into the top of mine. Jesus, the pain! It took me a second to work out exactly what had happened – did he, did he just headbutt me? What a dick! Water’s one thing but come on! He returned to the stage immediately, but stepped back at the end of the verse, pulled me to him and apologised. Jesus, he did headbutt me!
This might be the actual footage – I don’t recall what song it was during – but at 3:30 in you see him lean across me (he grabbed the hair of my friend Lesley, to my left, which is why this might be it – you can see me in silhouette – but he came down the front a fair few times so maybe not.)
Outside after the gig, I happened to see him by the bus, and spoke to him about it. He said his head hurt so bad for two songs after it he couldn’t remember the lyrics, but obviously had to keep going. I was just glad to hear it hurt him as much as it hurt me. Fucker! We shook hands, I turned round and almost literally bumped into Frank, the promoter of all their England shows. I know him from previous gigs, and he invited me to join him and a few others in his hotel bar. Which is how I ended up after the Glasgow gig sitting in a plush bar drinking with Frank, Jon and Josh – Flag Promotions – and with Mortiis, his guitarist Levi, and with Lesley Gray, an Irish fan of Combichrist who added me on facebook through their page and who made the trip across for this gig. Despite my (by now considerable) reservations, Mortiis turned out to be a really nice guy, down to earth and with the same easygoing attitude and sense of humour as both Andy and my friend Jorgen. I like Norwegians. At some point, Frank mentioned that I do stand-up comedy, which he knows thanks to facebook. After some peer pressure, I got up and did a couple of bits for them, using my pint in lieu of a mic, and they all liked it. So much so, that Frank asked if I’d like to introduce all the bands onstage in London. I agreed immediately, and Mortiis loved the idea. He wanted me to mention the headbutt to make him look like a properly deranged motherfucker.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that his original band was Emperor, the seminal black metal outfit whose members were partly responsible for the notorious Norwegian church-burnings of the early nineties. Their drummer was also later convicted of murder. For all the years I’ve known Jorgen we’ve joked about Norway being a land of trolls and church-burnings (in the same sense that Scotland is a land of kilts, bagpipes and haggis – it’s what foreigners think they know about our countries.) And here I was sitting drinking and laughing with a man who used to dress as a troll onstage, and who knew some of the people responsible for those infamous arson attacks. It turns out he hates people and thinks everything sucks, and I can totally relate to that, so it turned into a great night – so much laughter. Good times.
Despite the enthusiasm of both promoter and band, and although I was immediately up for going along with it, I had doubts about how well it would go. I’ve been at gigs before where some comedian or compere has come out, and everyone goes “Who are you, why are you here, where’s the band?” – as Malky advised me before the gig “Just abuse them, they don’t want to see you. They’ve paid to see the band and you’re just a mohawk in the way.” I made plenty of jokes about getting heckled, booed, jeered, bottled off, etc, because I genuinely expected that’s how it would go.
– “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, here’s a comedian you’ve never heard of.”
– Fuck off, we want to see Combichrist!
– “Yes, but first, a joke…”
“Here’s a band that need no introduction…”
“Well fuck off then!”
Since I’d agreed to do it (“You better fuckin do it” – Barry Douglas, Glasgow promoter) I spent Saturday writing out material. I resurrected the “Cunt” bit, since that was partly what got Frank and his team laughing in the bar, and some of my self-deprecating “Mohawk” jokes – time was going to be really tight, with four bands on the bill, and so Frank had asked me to just do a minute before each act. I joked that it’d probably be 50 seconds of heckler putdowns and dodging pints of piss, and ten seconds doing a commando roll to get offstage… Nevertheless, I wrote out short introductions for each band using tried and tested material for the first two. For Mortiis, I worked up some material around the inadvertent headbutt, and for Combichrist I had a story about something that happened in Manchester. I’d related it in conversation three or four times and knew it had merit. In my head, though, I still had huge doubts that this would go ahead. As an idea, it was great and I was really enthusiastic about it. As as a reality, I thought it’d either get canned or go terribly.
I emailed myself the set (I have no printer) and wrote it out longhand on the train on the Sunday morning – about two A5 pages per act. When I got to the gig, about 3pm, it turned out Frank was still really hopeful of getting me onstage to introduce the bands. Even though he’d forgotten about it and had to run it past MJ, Combi’s Tour Manager – she okayed it with Andy and suddenly it was all going ahead. With revised scheduling, I cut my two-page intros down to one page per band, in order to keep within the strict time limits. I told their stage manager to allow me up to two minutes, to afford me the chance to combat any heckles or resistance from the audience, and that was fine – there was about five minutes between the end of each changeover and the band actually going on, so there was just enough leeway for my short sets. I figured if it went badly, I had the ultimate get-out clause, I could just shout the name of the band, get a cheer, and fuck off fast.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage a Scottish comedian you’ve never heard of – Jordan R.A. Mills!”
I did my own introduction, walking onstage to sixty or a hundred people at the barrier and filing in just after doors opened. I’d written “Good evening London!” as my opening line, which was naff and cliched and shite. Backstage, Frank’s colleague Brian had suggested I go on, with my thick Glasgow accent (which I deliberately toned down for the night so as to be understood) and say “What are youse looking at?!” – I loved this so much, I used it as my opener, and I think I’m going to keep it. I’m not someone who asks “How are we all doing”, I prefer to get stuck in either with a joke or a statement that demands attention. So far, it seems to mostly work for me. Tonight, I followed that with a line about my own name, which begins “My name’s Jordan” – “Hello Jordan!” shouted my friend Kika, from the front row. We met in Manchester and London last year, and I’d also just seen her in Manchester three days previously.
When I walked out, having said my name, people actually cheered, which I had not anticipated at all. I thought I’d walk out to silence and have to win folk round.
“I’m doing this gig because Jim’ll fixed it for me to come and introduce all the bands tonight.
Actually, Mortiis kidnapped me in Glasgow. He tied my leg to the back of the bus and [sticking my foot out] dragged me all the way down the motorway to do this show.
I guess you could call me the “Compere-Christ”
I did two jokes from my canon, and introduced System FX – short, sweet, straight to the point, and it was a huge relief that it got laughs and a warm response. I didn’t watch the band, instead rehearsing my next set. I see Deb and Steve all the time anyway, they come up to Glasgow a couple of times a year at the moment supporting other bands or just to see gigs. They over-ran or were allowed to over-run, and the next band wanted to extend their set too, and I was warned that this would impact on my stage time. I had a couple of lines I planned to use which I’d thought of between acts, but relegated them to the next intro instead. With Kika in the audience, and three of my other friends coming down for the gig, I changed the way I introduced myself accordingly.
“Please welcome back to the stage a comedian only four of you have heard of, Jordan R.A. Mills”
A bigger crowd by now, as Aesthetic Perfection are capable of headlining a tour in their own right. “Jesus welcomes you with open arms” – “He’s a cunt!” someone shouted, but the punchline hit, and they laughed at all the resurrected “Cunt” stuff – which I know well enough to deliver seamlessly and succinctly. The cheer for the band was so loud, and again I retreated to rehearse my next set. I’ve seen AP four times now anyway – twice on a previous tour supporting Combi with Uberbyte, and twice on this tour in Manchester and Glasgow. I really like their music, but can see why comparisons are made between them and the headliner. Their current live set-up emulates CC far too much, in my opinion, and they have the music and the talent to do their own thing – right now, though, their drummer is too much like Joe Letz-lite and their keyboardist climbs up on his instrument/a flightcase in exactly the same manner Trevor clambers over his kit. At the same side of the stage too.
My next set was the only dampener of the evening, and that was largely due to a lack of communication beforehand. Well, lack of some specific communication. I had my set worked out, and rote-learned – all new material relating to this now infamous headbutting incident. The changeover happened, and I was shifted from my hand-held mic onto the main mic centre stage (which I left in the stand, where it was already set for the singer). The screen that covered the changeover was flown out, lifting like a stage curtain to reveal me, centre stage, poised and ready. I’d seen the Mortiis show twice on this tour, and so was familiar with the intro – backing track plays, drummer walks on, eventually joins in with the track with rhythmic beating, which increases in tempo as the guitarists come on and stand looking menacing before they too join in. Finally Mortiis himself comes on. What threw me tonight was, the drummer was already on stage. Sitting at his kit behind me. And as I started my own intro (“It’s time for the third section of ComedyChrist”) I was aware that their backing track was playing. Shit.
I didn’t know what to do, so I continued. I got one joke in, and Levi, their guitarist, appeared onstage next to me. Just walked right up to me and stared at me, the way I’d seen him stare at the audience these past two shows.
In my head, I knew I had to get off before the drummer started playing. This was Mortiis’ audience, and I’m onstage in front of Mortiis’ drummer, and Mortiis’ guitarist, while Mortiis’ intro music is playing, and who the fuck am I?
I am a man in the wrong place, feeling increasingly unwelcome, and starting to panic. I throw out a few lines as fast as I can, and get the fuck off that stage, that’s what I do. Fuck the carefully-prepared, specific set. This is not the place to be when the band start playing. And technically, by being on stage, they’ve started.
I really cringe watching this, to the point I can’t watch it:
Offstage, I’m worried. I worry that if the band are annoyed, everyone will get it in the neck. I can run the 400 miles back home and hide until it blows over, but Frank has taken a massive chance on me by giving me this opportunity, and if I reflect badly on him, then… But then I remember this was Mortiis’ idea. When Frank had first said he’d get me to introduce the bands, Mortiis was absolutely in agreement. He said even if no-one else was up for it, he’d personally get me to introduce him. So that calmed me down a bit, and I knew I’d got off before the drummer started playing (about half a minute before, if you check the video). It’s obviously not a great reflection on me, but in the grand scheme of things it could have been far worse, far more awkward. It’s only online for context. Levi is also really quiet offstage so, as much as he looks evil as fuck and really intimidating, when he spoke to me about it at the end of the night he was totally fine about it. He said it put him in mind of a live Pink Floyd bootleg(?) although I forget the details now, unfortunately.
What I wanted to say, after my opening existing joke about Glasgow, and incorporating an event from the previous night, is this:
I was at the barrier for the Mortiis gig in Glasgow, and he jumped down and headbutted me.
Because that’s just how he rolls.
He just thought in Glasgow it’s the done thing.
What’s Glasgow famous for? Drinking and headbutting.
It turns out he doesn’t drink.
Stuck the nut right on me. It was fucking sore.
It hurt so much, part of me’s genuinely worried I’m just lying in a coma somewhere dreaming this is real.
Kind of like Jonathon Pryce at the end of the film “Brazil.”
I heard Mortiis nearly got arrested in Nottingham last night for kicking a bottle of water at a photographer. It hit him and he wanted him done for assault.
For a bottle of water? Fuck off! I got headbutted and I didn’t even blink!
Anyway, if you’re in the front row and you’re quite tall, if Mortiis comes near you, duck. Here he is.
But, as with the best laid plans of mice and men, it didn’t quite come out like that. C’est la vie. Mortiis said afterwards that he’d forgotten about my bit, and in fairness I doubt it really spoiled anyone’s enjoyment of the night as a whole. It was a real pleasure meeting him and spending some time in his company.
It did mean, however, that I sought out Austin the unsung hero of Combichrist – he’s their tech guy and stage manager and roadie and drum tech and guitar tech and laptop tech and bodyguard and everything else, and describes himself as their Janitor. I talked through with him about the next changeover, because I planned to finish with a cue for their intro music. I was glad I approached him, as he’d planned to play it under my set and that would probably have unsettled me totally. I think I benefitted from having been on the crewing side of the stage, because it meant I knew what to expect from the changeovers and that meant there was one less thing to phase me. There was, however, a screen in place again. When it flew out, everyone was going to scream so loudly, expecting Combichrist. And they were going to get me instead. What a letdown. I decided I’d begin by saying “It’s time for your final comedy snippet of the evening” – the word “snippet”, I hoped, would convey that I wasn’t going to be in their way too long. I’d already cut half my planned set, which refers to a logo on the leaflet I mention, and I knew if I really emphasised the band name I’d get a huge cheer without doing much.
“I was outside the Manchester gig the other day, waiting to see a band called – Combichrist. [Huge reaction]
In the queue, two feminists came up to us and handed us leaflets.
At the top of the leaflet, it said “BDSM” [Bondage, Domination, Sado-Masochism], so at first I thought it was the flyer for some sort of fetish night.
I didn’t realise they were feminists, because they were quite pretty.
They said “We heard people have been posting comments on their youtube videos, saying things like “We wish we were with Combichrist so we could kill sluts too.” – Is that right, are their lyrics offensive to women?
And I said no, their lyrics are only offensive to feminists.
“All you feminist cunts who know that they want it, give head if you got it.”
Anyway, I asked if they were coming into the gig, and she said “No, we’re feminists – we’re going to go and lick some pussy.”
Now here’s a song about unicorns [CC intro music]”
I’d told this a few times in conversation, so I was reasonably confident that it’d go over okay – plus with the quote from their song it would at least reveal a familiarity and love for the band. Not sure why these two feminists didn’t look the lyrics up online, rather than react to what they “heard” people are leaving as comments on youtube? They were actually really friendly, and happy to chat. I just said to them that CC are clearly doing a show, and if you see them you’ll see expert live performers – you can watch any one of them onstage and be entertained by their style of playing. Also, I don’t personally use the word “pussy” ordinarily, but I figured it would get a laugh (and there’s probably something in there about “know your audience”) – and I ran my set past MJ before going on, just to make sure that anything contentious wasn’t too contentious. Still very much aware that it wasn’t my gig and I was there in a ridiculously privileged position. I heard later that when Andy found out about the feminist protesters his response was : “Cool.”
I watched the gig from the side of the stage – decided not to go out and get sweaty having avoided it thus far, and being less “warmed up” than the crowd since I hadn’t watched the supports. It was incredible. They are such a powerful, aggressive, relentless force of energy live, and whichever of them you watch (including new addition Abbey on guitar) you can’t fail to be entertained. Having spent the past two gigs at the very front of the barrier from doors opening to the end of the encore, I had no idea what was going on behind me. Tonight, I got to see what the band see, a tightly packed, happy, enthusiastic and energetic crowd absolutely connecting with the band and their music. As I said later, if that had been all that happened today, I’d have been a happy man. Instead, I also got to go on before them, hear the roar that was meant for them when the screen went out, and introduce them. So, so lucky, and happy. All because of that chance meeting with Frank, him announcing to the room about my comedy, and then everyone agreeing to let me do it. Despite the fact he’s never seen my stuff. I’m so glad he took a chance on me, and even more happy that it seems to have paid off.
Photo by manager Jason Fiber. I would have been next to him when he took this. This is the audience I performed to – wow.
“The Mortiis glitch wasn’t your fault. There will come a time when your confidence will be so strong, that you would just ad lib your way out of any unexpected situation, just takes time dude! You did great fella, I’m glad a a spur of the moment conversation with Mortiis, Jon and ourselves in Glasgow became a reality and that my faith in you wasn’t misplaced.”
– Frank, Flag Promotions
“You were brilliant mate! im so glad we randomly met you in Glasgow. you really put the cherry on the top of the gig. lots of london people are asking about you now.”
– Jon Briggs, Flag Promotions
“Anyone know who the Scottish guy (comedian?) was introducing the bands at Koko this evening?”
– Mikey, of the band AlterRed, on facebook. Four great bands, and he wants to know more about me? crazy!
I went round afterwards and personally thanked every single person who helped or let me get up on that stage tonight – crew, promoters, managers, and bands. I don’t want to run before I can walk, and tonight I probably benefitted from knowing the bands, their material, and the audience they attract. I was also only due to do a grand total of four to eight minutes material during the whole night, and I’ve already got that much tried and tested (although I did new relevant stuff tonight too). It was such a great honour to be allowed to do that, and I’m so grateful to Frank for taking a punt on me.
Here we, here we, here we fucking go!
The band seemed to like it too, although they found the accent hard to fathom – even though I made a conscious effort tonight to enunciate properly and speak more slowly. Jason, their manager, said he wished he’d been able to catch what I’d said. I asked if he’d heard the audiences response, to which he replied in the affirmative, and I’m happy enough with that, that he could tell they were enjoying it. I said I’d link him to the video/transcript when it goes online. Some of the headliners I’ve spoken to at The Stand do that – they don’t listen to your material, they listen to the responses you’re getting, and gauge your performance by how frequently the laughs come.
Andy said for two days Frank had been talking about this Scottish guy he knew who did comedy, and he’d be in London so he might get him to introduce them. And then when he saw me backstage he put two and two together and was like “Do you mean Jordan? We know Jordan!” He says that he’s now met me and Jonathon (the Edinburgh promoter) so many times he can almost understand my accent. There’s a great new interview with him you can read here and the review of the Glasgow show is here. He also revealed he hasn’t washed his stage clothes since the US tour before the US tour they’ve just done. “We reek! You can tell people that next time. But it’s for karma.”
Outside, I saw Joey. He said he loved the fact I’d asked “Who wants to hear a song about unicorns?” and took a picture of us together. When he writes his tour blog about these shows I’ll link to them. Joey takes lots of pictures, but in America he had a camera stolen and ended up getting a picture leaked of him online. In it, he is standing, naked apart from a full-head horse mask, getting fellated. I made a joke about that and he told me the horse’s head was on the bus. “I could go and put it on,” he offered. “Please don’t, I’ve seen what happens once you’re wearing it.” He was with a lassie who hadn’t seen or heard of this photo, so he pulled out his iphone to show her. It’s an image that’s hard to erase from your mind, I’ve tried. Joey helpfully showed me it again, only he sneakily zoomed right in before he did so. Don’t say you weren’t warned. I like Joey, but sometimes he seems a little grumpy – possibly because I normally only see him when he’s just off the bus and is tired – and since he is (online) the public face of Combichrist as well as being an excellent drummer and performer (hence the nickname “RoboArms”) he gets loads of attention so I usually don’t really talk to him. It was good chatting to him tonight though, and I found out he’s hoping the next CC release will finally be some kind of DVD. Maybe live, maybe backstage with tracks intercut, but it’s something that’s been mooted for years so we’ll see. It feels long overdue though, in the past six years CC have gone from being a two-man live show to this five-man monster, and in that time have played all kinds of tracks that were never recorded for posterity – a vocal version of an instrumental track, a live mash-up, and various B-sides to name three.
Overall, the band were happy, the promoters were happy, the managers seemed happy enough, the audience loved it (whatever tiny part I might’ve played in that), and I got to address the biggest crowd of my short career before seeing my favourite band rip them apart. Truly one of the best nights of my life. And just mental to think that, having seen them on Thursday and Friday, I had no idea that by Sunday I’d be onstage directly before them. Such great guys too, so friendly, funny and welcoming. Massive thanks once more to Andy and Joey, to Greg (Z Marr) with his love of fruit pastilles and to Trevor who filled me in on the time he played golf with my absolute hero Alice Cooper. I didn’t get much chance to talk to Abbey, but he seemed like a decent guy too. And of course my thanks to Mortiis, who immediately leapt on the idea when Frank first suggested it, and to Austin and Choo on the Combi Crew. Such an incredible whirlwind, I can’t believe the whole thing lasted just four days in total.
Watching the videos back, I’m impressed with myself that I managed to stand far more confidently onstage – if you look at my other videos you’ll spot (as I have spotted) that I have a really annoying habit of nervously rocking back and forth while speaking. Maybe I just need to play bigger rooms which encourage me to up my game. If I keep playing enough small rooms, pubs and clubs, maybe I’ll earn the right to do just that.
I’m on tonight (5th, Tuesday) at The Halt Bar, which will be the next step in getting to a place where I can comfortably do something like this again. Starts at 8.30pm, free entry.
Finally, here is a short documentary made by Levi (the Mortiis guitarist who looks so evil next to me in the video above) with the CC road crew. It’s very funny: