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Thursday, 25 August 2011

More festival mullarkey

Ok, so I totally planned to keep a daily diary to publish here, but things just got too busy. Most days I'm doing somewhere in the region of five shows, and I'm having to work hard to make time for eating and sleeping, so sadly I just didn't find the time to write. So in place of a linear diary, I'm going to post a few random snatches and memories from the past week that have managed to defy the stress, macaroni pies and jack & cokes to stick in my memory.
I won an award. A real one. From the Glasgow Herald. I'm asked to come along and pick it up, and stupidly I think it'll be an informal little thank you, but when I get there – with one of my producers, brilliant cabaret performer Des O'Connor (no, not that one) – I realise that this might be a bit of a big deal. We're in a gorgeous ballroom in the Bank Of Scotland's HQ, and there's lots of big noises from the world of serious theatre, and Ruby Wax is presenting awards, and I feel out of my depth. People are making speeches. All I have is cigar boxes. People are talking about the meaning of their work. All I do is tricks. But when my name is called, and I get up on stage, I start to feel at home again. I thank my heroes: Rastelli, WC, George Carl and Rob Murray. I thank my producers. I thank my wife. And then I smile at the audience and say “That's enough words. I'm a juggler. Wanna see a trick?”, and they're more than enthusiastic. I'd been asked to do a short spot, so I do, and then there's lots of shaking hands and mutual congratulations. I'm told that although these awards have been running for a long time, I'm the first cabaret performer to ever receive one. And I feel a little teary and overwhelmed, and I think – not for the first or the last time – how lucky I am to have found this cabaret world to fit into after trying to force myself into other worlds for so long.
In my other guise as a photographer, I shoot the marvellous Tricity Vogue covered in kazoos, and afterwards she takes me up to Calton Hill, where there is a little happening organised on twitter by musical duo “The Jane Austen Argument”. The part of me that Dusty Limits would refer to as Grumpy Uncle Mat would usually dislike this kind of thing, but when it works, it works. And this was pure delight. Sitting in the sun with a handful of people on a little hillside surrounded by gorgeous scenery, while gifted cabaret singers perform touching songs just because they felt like it. Actually beautiful. I'd trade a few chainsaw jugglers for people like The Jane Austen Argument, if one was able to modify one's friends in the same way as I might have done swapsies with Star Wars trading cards when I was a kid.
Had a stressful morning being late for a gig at the Foodies festival. I hate being late for things, and this Edinburgh I'm doing so many shows that I seem to arrive backstage at every one looking like a sweaty harassed mess. I'm not massively happy when I arrive, and after dragging my suitcase across a muddy field, I'm not in the mood to do a show. But I do, and it's fun – more like a street show than a stage spot, and characterised by several moments when I find myself chasing a toddler across the field with a knife. It was funny, trust me. Then off to catch the end of the cabaret symposium, where I get to sit in an auditorium with lots of my favourite people and watch them talk stuff..I guess..? Maybe I missed all the juicy stuff, but by the time the end of the session came and Amanda Palmer was talking about how awful it is when audience members always want to buy you drinks, I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly gave myself a seizure. Still, it was good to bring the gang together and say a little “yay us” - especially since a few members of our community have worked so hard to get cabaret listed as a genre in the festival guide. I just worry that “cabaret” sometimes seems to mean “kooky musical people”, and us variety artists, once again, get a little sidelined.
Fittingly, right after the symposium, my friend Kirsty takes me to see Paul Daniels' show. It's really interesting. It's easy to forget that Paul was not only a proper big TV star (more viewers every Saturday night for 16 years than shit like X-factor), but also totally instrumental in people like me doing what I do. The first time I saw Kris Kremo, Bob Bramson, Rob Murray – some of the greatest jugglers of modern times – all on his show. I owe him, and have told him so in the past when I've been lucky enough to hang out with him. The show is pretty great. It can get a little awkward when he cracks the occasional joke that he shouldn't be cracking – his opinions are a bit daily mail, and that made some of the audience feel everso slightly uncomfortable at times. But when he gets into one of his routines, by god, it's spun gold. I feel honoured to have been able to watch his classic chop cup routine live – it's been honed over something like 50 years, and is as perfect as it could be. And talking of his audience – there were all sorts in – know-it-all people like me and Kirsty, people of similar age to Paul, families, young children. And good grief is he good with his audience volunteers. Once he knows your name and job, it's an unending stream of perfectly tailored gags that let you know just how many decades he's been polishing this stuff. It gleams. At one point, the tiny child sat in front of me was literally on the edge of his seat, hands over his face, unable to stop himself screaming “nooooo...dont do it...!” as Paul had his hand on a guillotine trigger. Any show that can move an audience so naturally is worthy of your attention. Everyone at the cabaret symposium should book tickets for the chance to learn from an old master, but sadly hardly any of them will see this as cabaret.
Talking of cabaret – we've been having some astonishing special guests at Vive le Cabaret, the late night variety show I'm closing every night. A couple of nights ago I found myself going on after Camille O'Sullivan who herself had followed Shlomo. Crazy. Two of the most captivating and astonishing talents in this town, and I get to be on the same show as them? Lucky boy, I am. A smart mouth and a tablecloth has got me to some pretty cool places, and this is certainly up there. Sometimes a journey rounds a corner and delivers a nice view. It'd be a sin not to stop and look at it before hurrying on your way.
Audiences are steadily growing for my solo show, and I'm getting some nice feedback. Three people have now told me that the more poignant moments have made them cry, and another couple have mentioned that they found themselves thinking about some of the things I said a day later. So that's a win, then. Part of the point of the show was to make it a little bit more than just jokes and tricks (not that I don't adore both of those things), and introduce an element of old style narrative storytelling into it. Very happy that it seems to have worked.

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