I went to this gig more or less on a whim, but it was surprisingly good (given what I’d heard of last week’s events).
This is a newly-established new act/new material night, with a simple premise – everyone pays 99p to get in, knowing there are ten open spots available, and names are drawn to see who gets them. The money raised pays for the headliner, and there’s also a compere too. It looks suspiciously like pay-to-play, but with so much competition and such long waiting lists to get onstage at the Halt or the Stand (to name two), it’s hard to begrudge paying the occasional quid for a gig. As it turned out, there were enough spaces last night, or a low enough turn out, to ensure that all the acts who turned up got stage time. Even me, although I’d primarily gone along just to spectate.
The venue, a basement bar in the centre of town, is a bit of a dive. I was last here in early 2007, at an after-show party, and it looks like nothing has been painted or renewed since. You can’t fault the bar prices though, the only place I know still selling pints of lager for less than two pounds. By all accounts, some of the locals last week had partaken wholeheartedly of the cheap beer – which is why one of them twice fell off his stool while watching the comedy – taking someone with him the second time. Having heard about this, and the dodgy mic and the background chatter, I knew it would be an interesting gig…
Allan Park, whose gig it is, explained to me later that the comedy had been in the main bar, where people who had been working gathered to chat and weren’t interested in being interrupted by comedy. Tonight, he ensured we were on the dancefloor instead, off to the other side of the bar and with no thoroughfare. Tables and chairs were brought through and a small, intimate club atmosphere was quickly achieved. All we needed was an audience, which turned up en masse when the callcentre up the street kicked out at 9pm. So, from a very quiet start which looked like the gig might get pulled, we ended up with a small but attentive audience numbering 20.
Tony Hilton compered, something he has only started relatively recently but which he does very well – he got the whole audience onside with ease, and kept the energy levels up throughout. Paul McDaniel opened, with his bit about a broken clock, his poem, and material about the IRA. He cracks me up every time, and I last saw him at The State when I went down a couple of weeks ago to watch their new act night. There were sets from Scotts Brown and Reilly, Ray Zambino (a new Halt regular), Tony Coffey, and the inimitable Jim Hobbit – whose new opening bit was suitably absurd but led to quite a nice pay-of that earned him an applause break.
I was on second in the second half, following John Purves, and was in two minds about what material to do. Initially, I’d jotted down some things about Buxton and my experiences working and living in that town – which I did for two months in two consecutive summers – but then thought maybe I should stick to older material that I knew would work. The audience were very warm though, and so I decided I’d give the new stuff a try – stuff that I’ve only ever told conversationally and haven’t even fully written as material yet. I figured I’d start with a couple of easy one-liners, and then do the all-new, untried stuff.
The one-liners, about my name and my haircut, were well-received, and the Buxton stuff was a bit hit-and-miss. It’s a place where old people go to die, but first watch opera – and that became the stock callback of the set whenever anything flagged. Some stuff worked, some didn’t, I ad-libbed and elaborated on other bits to get the laughs when the anecdote “as is” fell flat, and the story I ended on got me (as I recall) an applause break, which I then ruined with an extra detail which – rather than being funny – left me ending on a low note. For its first time out, though, I’m happy with how it went and that I got a chance to try it – the next step is to try and write it as I said it, and remember the extra details I threw in and which got the laughs. There is, I’m learning, a reason why many people record the audio of their performances.
The night continued with sets from Hamish Tennant and Nev, another new Halt act, before Will Setchell headlined – coping admirably with some Invernesian hecklers. They eventually left early, but not before handing me a lollipop with the words “we stole a handful of these from a bar earlier, give this one to the guy on stage when he comes off.”
The audience dwindled as we approached closing time, but there were 12 or 15 who stayed until the end and remained attentive. The gig worked well for being in a different part of the bar, and everyone happily parted with their quid when asked. I’m not sure how you attract more punters in, which is why I don’t promote, but it’d be good to see this night take off as – based on my sole experience of it – it was a good wee gig. It’s on again next week, Thursday at 8.30pm, so pay your pound and either do a set or watch up to eleven comedians plus compere.
My next gig, subject to confirmation, will see me compere a local metal gig at Pivo Pivo this Thursday (the 27th) – £6 to get in, with the chance to win a bottle of Jagermeister and free entry to the Cathouse afterwards too. It’s Grant Gallacher’s resident gig, which I’ll be covering while he is away on holiday, and I went down last week to get a feel of how the evening is run. I expect it’ll be a bit of material, a bit of audience interaction, a little bit of pisstaking, and – due to the Broken Oath t-shirt I always wear onstage – with my local metal credentials plastered across my chest. Should be different, fun, and busy too since I hear one of the bands has a large following.