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Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Same Old, Same Old

The joke, of course, being that in my line of work (and life, I guess) there is no "same old, same old". It's continuously different, every work day new, often with familiar ingredients, but more often than not, counterbalanced by fresh challenges. That's what makes it as fun and exciting as its unsettling and terrifying. And this week seemed like a good one for that.

Monday and Tuesday saw my daytimes spent coming to the end of the learning process for the electric carving knives trick. For those not up to speed, every month at Mat Ricardo's London Varieties, I set myself a challenge. A new trick or routine to attempt to learn in time to debut at the next months show. This month I decided to try something dangerous, and, after a little deliberation, settled on the juggling of three cordless electric carving knives, jammed in the "on" position. Genuinely dangerous, but kinda fun.

The danger part means that the practice sessions have to be very carefully planned out. First learn to juggle them switched off, to get an idea of the weight and spin, then start just tossing one from hand to hand while the motor runs, if that works, I move up to a juggling pattern with two balls and one knife, and if we get that far, then there's nothing else to do but go for all three. This was not without problems, as the video below shows..

Luckily I had something fun to do in the evening to distract me from my impending unintentional manual amputation, which was that the WWE were in town. Regular readers will know of my love of professional wrestling, and of my connections to a couple of the performers in the WWE, which explains how I found myself sitting in the catering area backstage at the O2 arena, with my friend Andre, spending a very fun evening listening to wrestlers exchange Bernard Manning stories, while the live show played out the other side of the wall. Occasionally a wrestler would disappear from the room, appear on the plasma screen in the corner that relayed the live show, and then come back significantly sweatier to congratulations from the other performers.

Tuesday night I returned to the O2, this time with my friend Roses in tow. She'd never been to a wrestling show before, and was as massively enthusiastic about the artform as she was massively pregnant. We were lucky enough to have ringside seats, which meant that at one point, legendary wrestler The Undertaker threw a man literally into my lap. Here's the moment just before it happened, with my stupid face helpfully labelled..

Wednesday saw me perform at a gorgeous little cabaret show at Chiswick House, which ended with the delightful realisation that we were able to claim a free single malt each, and therefore I was afforded the pleasure of slowly dissolving into a big leather sofa while drinking a gorgeous whiskey in the company of fellow cabaret monkeys Ophelia Bitz and Bettsie Bon Bon. Fine way to de-stress.

And I was a little stressed, because Thursday was the monthly Mat Ricardo's London Varieties night, and - along with some of my favourite cabaret and variety performers (Eastend Cabaret, Johann Lippovitz, Lisa Lottie), I was to interview Paul Daniels. This was quite the thing. I've written here before about the importance of Paul's TV show in putting me on this path, and if you know my work, you know the importance I place on the history of the variety artforms. I wanted to have Paul on the show because I feel that often he's under-represented in the mainstream - perhaps seen as an unfashionable relic, which of course he isn't, and the importance of his work is overlooked. Prime time Saturday night show for 15 years. More original magic tricks performed on TV than anyone else in history. But the kicker about having Paul on the show is that he's never stopped working - he out gigs most young stand-ups without breaking a sweat - which means that when he took the stage at the London Varieties, he machine gunned a curious audience with enough gags and tricks to have them eating out of his hand in no time at all.

It was a very fun night, and one that you'll be able to watch in glorious HD video, for free, right here, in a couple of weeks time.

Friday was the opening night of the new Wam Bam Club night at the Bloomsbury Ballroom, and it was a hell of a night - a big art deco hall, lit perfectly, with two stages and a standing room only crowd, all held together by the frankly awesome Lady Alex. It is, to paraphrase another very fine hostess, a truth universally acknowledged that I adore a funny woman, and Alex is very funny - she treads the perfect line between classy showgirl and saucy cow - it works for her brilliantly and it was lovely to see her new venture succeed so spectacularly.

The weekend passed in a bit of a blur - burlesque show on Saturday, and then two performances as part of an old time music hall show at the Charing Cross Theatre on Sunday, during which I came perilously close to causing some heart attacks in the slightly older than usual audience by doing my bowling ball routine. I was, to quote Al Murray on last months London Varieties, being an agent of mischief, as I should be.

And then it was my birthday.

I'd arranged to meet a few people for a little drink, and as I got off the train and headed to the bar, I started to dwell on the stressful rubbish that we all spend too much time dwelling on. My body was walking down The Strand, but my mind wasn't aware of any of that, idling in anxious little spirals of worry about ticket sales and Edinburgh shows and work and money and all the things that distract us from being in the moment.

And then I looked up from my feet and saw that they had taken me to the West Piazza of Covent Garden. I was standing under the portico of the church, exactly where I used to stand in the 15 or so years that I made my living as a street performer there. And I spent a few minutes just examining the view. Looking out at the same things I'd see just before I stepped out onto the cobbles and tried to get a crowd. How many times had I done that? How many times had I been short of rent, and had to do that? Lots.

I reached up to the left hand pillar and checked that the old rusty nail that I used to hang my jacket on was still there. It was. I smiled to myself. Then I heard music, and wandered up to the other pitch, the North Hall, to find the wonderful Terry St.Clair playing his gorgeous, melancholy songs to a small audience. I stayed and watched for a few songs. He saw me and we waved hello to each other. Terry was playing here - right here, on those exact same flagstones - years before I arrived at Covent Garden, and here he is, still writing songs, playing them, selling CDs and being totally content with his lot. Someone once worked out that if you counted all the CDs Terry had sold from his guitar case in the decades he's been performing, he'd have a gold record.

And I had a nice little cry, as once again, street performing taught me a lesson about art and commerce, and I went to meet my friends for a birthday drink.

At one point, I had to introduce some of my friends to others who hadn't previously met. I went round the table, "director, producer, sound engineer, escapologist, burlesque performer, clown, tap dancer, body builder..."

You get how happy this made me, right?

Please come to this. It'll be very fun! Click here for tickets

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