There was ninety minutes, or maybe an hour and a half, to kill before the second gig of the day, Pavement Sarah and I headed up to the Royal Mile to meet Seafaring Sarah. I tried to get in touch with Malky too, who has been through for much of the festival supervising his barely-teenage son busking, but couldn’t get hold of him. It was a pity, because we were also meeting Pavement Sarah’s man later and both he and Malky share the name John Mitchell. I had wanted to spend the day with a couple of Sarahs and a couple of John Mitchells just for balance. I like my company to have symmetry…
Seafaring Sarah had just had a less-inspiring gig than my first of the day, for the notorious/infamous Penicuik promoter Gravy Davy. I realise that with names like these in my blog, this may start to read like an Enid Blyton novel. Really, today had more of an air of L. Frank Baum about it. Inasmuch as, having set off following the grey brick road, I met Seafaring Sarah, and the two of us set off to do Rik Carranza’s gig, before he joined us to head down to do Pearse James’ gig – the Emerald City in this analogy.
With the sun now shining and time available, the two Sarahs and I were drawn in by the fiery juggling of a street performer. Malky’s son has taken to juggling fire lately, and that was really the initial draw for us, to see if it was anyone we knew. It wasn’t, but we stayed and watched anyway. The guy was talented enough, but not doing anything I haven’t seen before – though there is always the chance that it’s been him I’ve seen doing it previously.
On our way up to the venue, we laughed as Seafaring Sarah took every single flyer offered to her, laughing harder as we advised her of the body-swerve and the “no thanks” while watching as she continued to take flyer after flyer. I told her to start handing them back to the flyerers – a tactic I’ve employed on Sauchiehall Street before now for my own amusement, taking a flyer from one PR person and handing it to the next one you see to see if they’ll take it – and she said that the other day she had done something similar, taking flyers and then just getting rid of them by handing them to people as she walked.
We found the venue easily enough, and I made the unfortunate discovery that the gents toilets has the look and feel and smell of the bog Ewan McGregor disappeared down while looking for his suppositories in the film Trainspotting. Walked in and all three urinals were blocked, with lakes of fusty pish in them. The cubicle was a very stained stainless steel toilet with a bit of wood at either side in lieu of a pan, and all that was missing from that famous scene was the superimposed caption “The worst toilet in Scotland.” Grim.
Upstairs, the room itself was quite different to the last, and was (surely not) never designed for live entertainment. The room was maybe fifteen feet by thirty feet, with a narrow door at one end serving as the only entrance. Seating booths ran along both walls, on a plan they would look like two 3s facing each other. To my surprise, because I was expecting to play to tiny audiences, the place filled up almost immediately. It held about forty people, and was very quickly standing room only. Of those sitting, the layout meant only half of them were facing the “stage” (corner), and the performer was separated from them by a physical barrier. It wasn’t conducive to an easy gig, and this one wasn’t particularly.
Rik compered, doing a little material before introducing the first act, a guy from England (I forget where) wearing a sleeveless t-shirt with Billabong printed on it. Evidently he had confused Scotland with Australia, and was dressed for the latter. I imagine he got very wet walking our streets. He spoke softly, or the volume on the amp was too low, or both, and the audience seemed a little restless. Standing at the back, he was barely audible at times, and I’m not the only one who noticed.
I was due to be on second, but Rik whispered to me that he was swapping me and “Seafaring” Sarah Short around in the bill, because he is more familiar with her work, and her ability to pick up a room. She did just that, forgoing material to just chat to people and being warm, likeable and witty enough to get them all onside.
I’d misunderstood Rik’s request, and combined with the lack of a written running order I thought I was on after her. Wrongly, as was very publicly pointed out after I’d manoeuvred myself to be nearer the stage, standing in the small gap between the centres of the booths. “I don’t know what you’re doing, it’s not you next.” Rik jokingly said into the mic, good-naturedly telling the audience to “hate me” when I came on. This suited me fine though, I open by matter-of-factly stating that I hate people, and considered using the Fixmer McCarthy song “I Want You To Hate Me” as intro music if it had been required.
I was preceded instead by a fifty-ish, grey-haired comedian from Wales (if I pegged the accent right), who was funny although I spent most of his set mentally preparing for my own. Rik had expanded his line-up, and asked us to do eight minutes each instead of the ten as planned. As Pearse had also messaged today cutting our sets from ten to seven minutes, I decided to just drop the Mortiis stuff from the middle of my set, since it was the weakest part. Conscious that the clock was ticking, I rushed through my set a little too fast and found out later I’d only done five minutes. If I’d waited for laughs to subside and paused a bit more, I’d have done seven easily, and was happy to run under given the tightness of the hour.
The final act was an American girl, sitting on a pile of tables at the very back of the room, who drew attention to the fact that in a room so small there was no need for a mic, and this way the people who couldn’t see anyone for 45 minutes were now in the front row. Had I known she was going to do that, I’d have stayed put after my set. Instead, I was pretty much next to her and wishing I could turn invisible.
Rik ended by thanking everyone for coming, suggesting that people might like to drop a few quid into the pint glass on the way out. He let them know he’d planned ahead and had stationed me at the door, and when everyone naturally looked they saw my six-foot-two broad-shouldered and mohawked frame blocking their view of the exit – helped by the door being down a couple of steps and combined with the narrowness of the room. I just embrace the fact that I look “scary”, to me it’s quite funny.
On her way out, one of the audience members, whom I suspect might be a comedian herself, stopped to tell me “nice wordplay” with reference to my set, which was good of her. It’s nice to be appreciated.
Sarah and Sarah and I met John in the main bar, before heading off to our next gig. The parallel with The Wizard of Oz was shattered though when Rik said he’d just get us down there as he had a couple of venue-related things to do first. His show is on nightly at 5.15pm in Espionage on Victoria Street, with a different line-up every night, and is also free entry. If you’re in town, go and see who you see. He also has a second show, called Gangsters of Laugh, which he does with Gareth Waugh and Paul Cronin. I’ve seen them all before, though not doing this show, and Rik gets to do his own material in it rather than merely compere. Check it if you can.
Two down, one to go.