Oh shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. Shittingly shittington shit. Shit on a brick. What the shit has happened!? Oh crap. I'm in so much trouble. I'm going to have to call for backup. Better do this right.
Six years earlier
A friend of mine encouraged me to head along to a thing for bloggers in Birmingham. It was a thing on Facebook, and it sounded quite cool. I missed the first one as I was on holiday but made my way to the second, in February. During that time I'd started working with a nice man called Jon Bounds, who added some humorous monologues to a new podcast I'd started, which is now subsequently lost.
I enjoyed getting drunk with him, and endured meeting an overbearing oaf called Danny Smith, who I ended up chatting to at subsequent "meetups", as these gatherings came to be known.
Jon ran a thing called Birmingham: it's Not Shit, which Danny occasionally wrote for.
Now, fast-forward about three years and BiNS has become Paradise Circus, added an extra Jon (in the form of non-Brummie Jon Hickman) and picked up a Craig Hamilton. There are other contributors too, including Danny who is now, inexplicably one of my best friends.
Towards the arse-end of the year I got invited to be part of a live show at the MAC. Mr Bounds and I had worked together on a couple of things in the time between our initial meeting and now, trading irregular appearances on each-others' projects. He'd been on a couple of podcasts, I'd done him a couple of funny songs, I wrote an article for his and Danny's magazine, he'd got me some paid work.
Now, in my youth I was something of a thesp. I enjoyed performing live although it gave me massive nerves, and I deal much better with a memorised script than any kind of on-stage reading or improv, as the first is a practical challenge and the second one is precluded by my tendency to get flustered when the adrenaline kicks in.
But I've always refused to become a hostage to fear, so I accepted Bounder's invitation to perform with them as part of a new thing the MAC were trying out, in one of their tiny theatre spaces. And thus, a plan for a show was born.
Paradise Circus: Live
To be honest, as soon as Jon laid out the basic premise, I was on-board. It was to be recorded in the style of a radio play, which meant actors on-stage with scripts in hand (Craig and the Jons), a sound effects guy (Danny), and me at the piano doing my best Colin Sell or Richard Vranch... or Mitch Benn, if you prefer.
It also meant dressing up smartly.
My role, as well as accompanying the cast in an ELO sing-along was to play three songs of my own composing, one of which, the now somewhat notorious 11song, to be sung by the cast and audience together (sans me, as I couldn't read the words and there's no way I could memorise the nonsense that is c140 bus stop names with no rhyme scheme).
I was also to open the show with a quick bit of piano and a booming introduction. So as we heard the final call for the audience to take their seats, I made my way from our tiny dressing room to the stage.
I played my overture, announced the show and as the cast assembled and I picked up my script, the bottom fell out of everything.
Black out. Title fades in. It reads...
Oh skullbuggering shit. What... where? Where's the... oh crap, where's the first scene?
I could only guess that the large-print, 132-page script my printer had spat out that very morning - which was all present and correct at the time of rehearsal - had somehow become unordered, or maybe some of the pages had been moved from the front to the back.
No, that wasn't it. There was absolutely no sign of the opening scene. Which was a problem, as shortly I would be expected to introduce the first sketch after the intro they were currently barrelling through. But I was so panicked I couldn't remember what the first sketch was, and I knew that if I tried to wing it I'd bugger up their cues, not five minutes into the first half!
OK, there was nothing for it. I'd have to call on that beautiful, wonderful weirdo I'd met in a Chinese quarter pub six years ago. I quietly signalled to Danny that he'd have to take the first voice-over part. For a second he looked aghast and panicked, but quickly moved into action and was ready to set the scene when the lights went out after the intro wound down.
I'd been given a bit of a reprieve so hopefully I could get my crap together. It took me a few moments, but I finally found my way to the scene in which the mid-market tabloid the Daily Bugle discussed Birmingham, and why people from the South might want to go.
Silently I checked the sides to make sure they were actually in order, and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my next cue in sequence, right where it was supposed to be.
The show went on
That it did, and it would seem, to much enjoyment from the audience, crammed in to the intimate Hexagon Theatre. I'd performed in spaces more tightly packed than that before, and had really enjoyed the atmosphere. In rooms like that, the mics are there simply to take the edge off, as everything is audible.
Oh, and speaking of mics, we had a wonderful techie who got us all setup, allowed us to record the audio and made us feel really welcome. So to Jim, I say thank you.
There were fantastic sketches, monologues and sing-alongs, and the two solos I performed seemed to go down well, even if the second left people slightly bemused.
I was very touched to receive a mention in the Brumpic blog:
A special mention has to go the keyboard player for his musical interludes. Firstly his song about a girl he fancied who worked at a sandwich shop in Digbeth. Secondly, his song about his steamy love affair with a zombie, and finally his keyboard skills as the whole cast and audience finished the night off with a rousing rendition of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky.
From a couple of weeks of online read-throughs to half a dress-rehearsal half-an-hour before the show, to a 90-minute revue was an amazing feat. The writing of Jon Bounds, Jon Hickman, Craig Hamilton and punch-up by Danny Smith and Libby Bounds made the show the laugh-out-loud success that it was.
Everyone got put through the ringer on the live 11song rendition but I could hear how much people were enjoying it, even if I couldn't see the antics from the gents whose backs I was looking at. I know how hard people worked - especially Bounder - and how high the nerves were running, but the show basically went off without a hitch.
I owe Thursday's opportunity to Jon Bounds and Danny Smith. I don't get to see Bounder that often but always enjoy his company, even if I usually have nothing to contribute to the conversation (I find it much more preferable to sit back and watch him riff with quicker, funnier people).
And to Danny I owe a lot. I helped produce his radio show for the first few weeks and when I'm starting something new, he's one of the first names that comes to mind, as there's very little he can't do... except sing on key. He's also a tremendous friend.
But to Jons Hickman and Bounds, and to Craig, I say thanks for letting me play with you for a bit. It was fun.
If you're interested, my friends and I have a sort of entertainment network thing, and I've just opened an online store there. If you'd like to hear the original recordings of the 11song, Yummy Little Lady or Zombie Together, you'll find them for about 70p each in the Poddle shop. Money goes towards the upkeep of the network. I think the PC chaps are looking into how they can release the audio recording of the live show, so look out for that.
Thanks to Jon Hickman for use of the second image and Jon Bounds for the third... I'm sorry, I don't know where the first came from.