Sunday, June 14, 2009

Junior Ministers, 6 Day Riot and assorted others

There's not a whole lot going on in the mainstream music scene that particularly excites me at the moment, and as a result my non-comedy-gig-attendance has dropped dramatically of late.

It took a Minchin-connection to get me down to Stockwell for a Junior Ministers gig (he is old friends with one half of the duo, H Anthony) but I'm very glad I made the trip south of the river. H and t'other half t'duo - Jim - do Talking Head's-esque tunes that one clever journo described as "arty stuff with squelchy beats and dark oddball narrative." Spot on!

Also on the bill, and a real find, were 6 Day A Riot, a lovely six-piece with a double bass, trumpet, violin, guitar, along with the more usual guitar, drummer and vocalist... with a ukulele. A bit Guillemots, a bit Arcade Fire, and quite a lot Spinto Band, they're a lot of fun, and have a *very* talented lead singer in Tamara Schlesinger.

Canadian comic Pat Burtscher did a great ten minute set too, and Mr Minchin performed 'Perineum Millenium' - a dirty twist on TS Eliot, most of the references in which I'm not well-read enough to get - a long, long list of one-lines, 'Nothing Can Stop Us Now' (the love song with a sting in the tail), and the Notting Hill Billies' gorgeous 'Feel Like Going Home'. Not your usual set, so a delight to see.

Very good night.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Twitter Comedy - the review

Written for MusicOMH.com

While Facebook is great for sharing photos, Myspace now generally based around promoting music and YouTube the go-to website for videos, Twitter is all about words.

It should perhaps come as no surprise, then, that it has become the social network of choice for comedians, and the fact that users have just 140 characters to play with appears more an attraction than a restriction – comics, it seems, are only too happy to prove that brevity is the soul of wit.

On Monday 8 June, as a sort of celebration of this new outlet for their talents, nine of the UK’s most prolific comic Twitterers undertook a little experiment: a comedy gig held on Twitter, which was hosted by Tiernan Douieb and headlined by Mark Watson.

And while it was a certainly chaotic and, at three hours, probably too long, (though when you’re watching the gig in your pyjamas, it matters rather less than usual) I think that Twitter’s inaugural comedy night can be considered a huge success.

The main positive was the line-up. The easy option would have been to stick with comics who specialise in one-liners, a style of comedy tailor made for Twitter, but thankfully the organisers were a lot more adventurous. So, along with acts who could shoot off puns at ten or more a minute (the brilliant Gary Delaney tweeted too often in an hour and had to start up an emergency account to continue his set), we also treated to acts that would, on the face of it, seem completely incongruous: the sketch troupe Pappy’s Fun Club and musical comedian Mitch Benn.

Perhaps the fact that they were forced to be more inventive was a blessing, however, as these two acts were definite highlights. Pappy’s Fun Club get the award for most preparation thanks to their inclusion of photos and additional accounts, but the night, I think, belonged to Mitch Benn.

Benn is an enthusiastic Twitter champion, and so he was even prepared to break his own rule of never setting new lyrics to an existing tune for the good of the cause. We had to guess the song, but if I copy and paste the wonderful lines “I see a little grainy twitpic of a man/SCARAMOUCHE SCARAMOUCHE WILL YOU START A NEW HASHTAG” you will quickly get the idea. And it was a delight. Funny, inventive, and an in-joke aimed at just the right audience, Benn deservedly got many a *cheer* and *standing ovation* from those following the gig.

In the end, the only problems were logistical rather than inherent. Having all the acts tweet from one account rather than their own would make following the gig much simpler, and trying to tell the rebellious Twitter masses not to use the hashtag reserved for the comedians was simply never going to work. But these are issues that can be easily sorted out, and when they are, there will be no reason why Twitter Comedy should not become a regular, and very successful, event.

The line up in full:
Mark Watson - @watsoncomedian
Pappy's Fun Club - @PappysFunClub
Mitch Benn - @MitchBenn
Matt Kirshen - @mattkirshen
Rob Heeney - @robheeney
Carl Donnelly - @carldonnelly
Terry Saunders - @terrysaunders
Gary Delaney - @garydelaney
Host: Tiernan Douieb - @TiernanDouieb

Monday, June 08, 2009

More Comedy Blogging (and Twittering,,,)

1) The BBC have got Adam and Joe blogging, which is something of a joy. Early days, but you can take a look here.

2) There's a comedy gig happening on Twitter at 8pm tonight, hosted by Tiernan Douieb, with the likes of Mark Watson, Mitch Benn and Pappy's Fun Club on board. Ten minutes each, one-liners or stories welcome. Might be just a tad unwieldy (Stephen Fry mentioned it, meaning thousands will be following) but should be a lot of fun nonetheless.

Sister Act

First posted over at MusicOMH.com

Thanks to its feel-good themes, big-hearted lead character, classic Motown soundtrack – and, you suspect rather importantly, a large and enthusiastic existing fanbase - putting the early ‘90s big screen hit Sister Act onto the stage is actually quite a natural progression.

There were, however, always a couple of major issues for the producers to deal with: the role of Deloris Van Cartier is inextricably linked with the Whoopi Goldberg, for one, and with Motown putting together its own musical, using the songs which form the heart of the film was strictly off-limits.

Based on the criteria of overcoming these inherent problems, though, the creators of this new powerhouse musical have done an excellent job. Stepping into the beloved Whoopi’s shoes must be daunting, but Patina Miller - at the age of just 24 - does it admirably.

This is more than a just a case of holding her own; Miller has a wonderfully big, rich voice and imbues her character with just the right mix of sassiness and warmth. You can see why the nuns of the circumlocutorily-named Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith follow her lead, even against the will of their austere Mother Superior (Sheila Hancock).

And in the case of the soundtrack, who better to entrust with this vital new aspect of the show than Alan Menken. His work with Disney, which includes most of the successes from their rejuvenated period in the 1990s (Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin among others), shows that he can do family-friendly with that added bit of class, and Little Shop of Horrors demonstrates his edgier, darkly comic side. A perfect combination for Sister Act, then, and so it proves.

But only eventually. We are made to wait for Menken’s genius to shine, as the show suffers from a pretty uninspiring first half hour. The musical only lurches into fourth gear, quite suddenly, when lounge-singer Deloris, witness to a murder by her partner, is put into a protection programme in the last place anyone would think to look for her: a convent.

After that shaky start, the pace and the enjoyment quickly pick up – although it has to be said that all of the subsequent fun is provided by the performances, and Menken’s tunes and Glenn Slater’s quick, clever lyrics: the script, despite coming from Cheers writers Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, adds little.

But that matters less and less as time goes on, as Menken and Slater are given more chance to indulge their obvious gift for ironic parody. Moving the action to the 1970s means that we get witty musical allusions to Earth Wind and Fire, Shaft (for the police chases, of course), Gloria Gaynor, Barry White, and – in a bizarre but wonderful nun-rapping moment - Grandmaster Flash.

In fact, aside from the brilliant, anthemic Raise Your Voice, which brings to mind Menken’s exceptional gospel soundtrack to Disney’s Hercules, it is the peripheral tracks that do nothing to move the story forward which are actually the most enjoyable, and which give the show a bit of much-needed edge. Ironically for a musical all about sisterhood, it is the men who tend to get the most interesting songs.

Overall, this musical more than makes up for its dubious opening. The big ensemble numbers do plenty to lift the spirits, and are augmented by some very funny choreography. And while the sentimentality can be a bit much at times - and one would certainly expect more from the book - there is always a welcome touch of sourness and ingenuity added by the songwriters to even things out.

The 'what would your band name be' discussion...

...normally throws up only depressingly awful suggestions (follow journalist/musician Rhodri Marsden's advice and search 'would be a good band name' on Twitter Search for evidence).

But my bro Mr Paul Fuzz has come up with a good'un...