I’ve been very fortunate in having some amazing gigs this year with great audience reactions, but last night in a pub in Totnes really was rather special. It was a night of poetry and music set up by the amazing Julie Mullen and I was so pleased to be asked to headline, yet at the same time, fairly nervous. The problem with headlining is that there is nowhere to hide, and if you are slightly below par or not performing on all cylinders, then you can appear weak and unprepared. And it was an eclectic night of fantastic performances : Japanese style drummers, acapella singers, a jazz band, and comedy performance poets such as Brenda Hutchings, Shelley Szender and Samantha Boarer, all of whom are very accomplished and comedy oriented.
On top of that, a last minute venue change meant that the gig took place in a very crowded pub on a Friday night, the stage area set up right next to where people go outside to the pub garden and the toilets, so there was a constant footfall of customers and their dogs, walking from the bar to the garden or the bogs. So all of this conspired to make me feel even more nervous than normal before the gig and worried that audience fatigue would set in, for it was also incredibly hot.
But I needn’t have worried, as my set went down incredibly well and the audience were incredibly responsive. The sheer lunacy of the Beard Envy poem served well to accustom the audience to my style, and then the rest of the set, with its short, sharp, funny poems, was received rather well indeed. Indeed, such was the unusual location of the stage area that i was able to interact with the people walking past. During the Beard poem, a man with the most amazing rampant beard came in through the door behind me, and the place just fell about. And then during the Little House poem, just as I’m talking about the sexy handyman, a rather good looking young man appeared from nowhere right at a critical moment as if he were an extra in a play, and again, the place fell about, as I walked after him with my hand out as if he were a lover, leaving me.
I couldn’t have asked for a better response. And it was hot in there, and I was wearing my jacket, feather boa, sequinned hat, and the sweat was rolling down my face, yet it didn’t matter because a strange force had taken hold, something ethereal, I felt like Ayrton Senna on a pole position lap at Monaco, I really felt I couldn’t do any better or that things had never been better. I was dancing along to my poems, walking around, jumping up and down at one point, everything combined in a way that it never normally does, and then it seemed over too soon. I even did the one thing I’ve learned from others, always to do slightly less than the time you’ve been allocated, and leave them wanting more.
Not all gigs are like this. Not all audiences are like this. An audience is a fluid thing, only good for one small brief moment in history, and this was a good audience. A drunk Liverpudlian later told me that he thought I was hilarious, and that made my night. It’s these small connections that help.
This is the last time for a while that I’ll be performing that particular set. It’s next scheduled appearance is in New York, and I have no idea how it will go. But I got home last night and I thought, hmmm, was that the best I’ve ever performed? I’m still smiling about it now!