Sunday, 21 February 2010

Gig reports - Socks tour starts good

Am I Polyanna? I'm so Glass-Half-Full that I consider it good luck that my car's broken down and I'm waiting for the AA.

Because, for once, I'm taking advantage of HomeStart, actually waiting in my own lounge for the AA to arrive. It won't start, and I'm at home, that is literally what it says on the card, how perfect is that? And it could have been so different.

I could have been waiting for the AA outside a roadside Premier Inn on the Blackpool Road out of Preston. Or I could have been waiting outside the even more remote Birch Hotel near Bury. Or horror of horrors I could have been in the car park of Aberystwyth University, still facing a three hour round-midnight drive home.

But no, my dear beloved car lets me get through those three nights of touring and waits until Sunday morning to give up the ghost (hopefully just flat battery, but could be as bad as a broken alternator or starter motor, we'll see).

I have, you see, returned from a three night run of the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, in Preston, Bury and Aberystwyth, and they were so totally enjoyable I am in a good mood that can only be dented by a big car repair bill or some unforeseen disaster that I'm sure isn't far ahead.

Each gig has included a surprise or pleasant meeting. Preston, at the Continental, the show is run by a nice chap called Robin, who I ended up roping into doing my sound. He looked and sounded so familiar I simply had to ask him "are you related to Bryan Talbot?" Bryan is a legendary comic writer & artist with a distinctive face and a strong Preston accent. And I realised as I said it how possibly insulting it was to suggest that someone might be related to someone else just cos of looking a bit like them and having a Preston accent. Lots of people have a Preston accent, and I daresay a good few of them look a bit sullen and intense with a well hidden smile. But I asked him, all the same, was he related to Bryan Talbot?

"He's my dad" he replied.

The next night in Bury, the Socks were performing in the studio theatre (which we sold out, thankyou very much) while in the main theatre were Stackridge, a band two of whose members I've known for years. They were in a hurry and flustered having endured the same twice-as-long-as-needs-be journey up the M6 I'd had to go through the previous day, but I got the chance to say a brief hello to Andy Davies. Sadly I missed James Warren, who I don't think I've seen since his wedding. So hi Jim, hope it was a good gig, ours was.

Then the best surprise meeting of all was at Aberystwyth Arts Centre where I was shown to my venue by the Front Of House manager and recognised her instantly. It was Sue Jones-Davies, formerly of Rock Follies and the woman who played Judith in Life Of Brian. Most recently she'd been on the TV in her role as Mayor of Aberystwyth, which job she kept till 2009, and during which time she overturned the longstanding ban on Life Of Brian which the city had forgotten it had placed back in 1979 and not revoked.

As for the shows themselves, they were the best bit, as you'd hope. Preston Continental is a cracking venue, a barn sized extension to a pub, in which a lot of arts theatre takes place and which 80 or so punters fill quite nicely, making a grand noise for Ali Cook first, followed by The Socks (this tour is going out as a double bill in the main, Preston being the first such night).

Bury & Preston both involved a compere called Paul, who runs the regular comedy nights there and wanted to maintain some continuity and brand awareness to we were happy for him to MC for us. However in Bury that didn't work in our favour, as our audience had quite a few youngsters for whom his material was, well let's say inappropriate. That misfire coupled with a contingent of the audience with special educational needs meant Ali Cook struggled to hit the right note with the crowd and only really got them warmed up halfway through. The pure magic worked, but the comedy was falling on silence, which isn't what you want to hear from the dressing room (a dressing that smelled, and probably still does, of Duck wee, but that's another story).

However Ali must have warmed them up well by the end because the Socks had a rapturous response and a perfect show, with adlibs springing up throughout, and laughs in all the right places.

Aberystwyth boded babdly when I saw the venue. A unique echo chamber, the studio theatre is round with a conical ceiling, not unlike an oast house. Looks lovely from the outside, but creates an aucoustic effect whereby if you stand in the middle of the room and shout, your voice is sucked up to the heavens and bounced down as if spoken down a drainpipe. And the seating is arranged to that the Socks set would either be a million miles from the crowd, or have to be stood so close to them they'd walk in and see behind the set (not a good idea for the Socks show). I solved this at the eleventh hours by getting cabaret style tables and chairs laid out for punters to sit on. It worked and we went well.

And, after two night away, I then drove home from Aberystwyth to North Somerset, three hours overnight. And the car started perfectly.

So phew. Thanks to everyone who came, you were great. The average audience size so far is knocking spots off either of our last two tours. And thanks to my car for waiting till now to break down. Now the AA man is, I'm told, 15 minutes away. I await the worst...

Kev F & The Socks

PS: It seems to have been some loose fuses in the car. AA man couldn't find prob with spark plug, fuel, battery, but pushed the fuses in a bit and everything's worked fine since. Famous last words...

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